Another Bikeway trail case returns to local court

Another trail case returns to local court

YOUNGSTOWN — More than two years after a Mahoning County jury said the Mill Creek MetroParks had to pay Green Township property owner Thomas Hough $68,975 as compensation for taking a former railroad bed on Hough’s land for the third phase of the Mill Creek Park Bikeway, an appeals court has sent the case back to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Hough is one of several property owners in litigation with the MetroParks over the proposed extension of the bikeway.

An Ohio appeals court panel from the Circleville area south of Columbus ruled Friday that the Hough case must return to Mahoning Common Pleas for procedural reasons ä similar to what the Ohio Supreme Court said recently in the MetroParks Bikeway ruling for another Green Township property owner, Diane Less.

In Hough’s case, the litigation resulted in a trial in June 2021 before Magistrate Tim Welsh, who works for Judge R. Scott Krichbaum, in which a jury determined the amount of money the MetroParks had to pay Hough to acquire some of Houghás land for the bikeway.

The Hough case is one of several cases in which the MetroParks is trying to use eminent domain to acquire land to complete the final phase of the bikeway in Mahoning County.

Hough appealed the proceedings, resulting in last week’s ruling from the Circleville panel hearing the matter for the Youngstown-based 7th District Court of Appeals.

In Lessá case, the Ohio Supreme Court sent the litigation back to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judges Maureen Sweeney and John Durkin for more hearings.

In both cases, the appeals panels sent the cases back to Mahoning County common pleas judges to consider the same thing ä whether the MetroParks has proven the necessity to acquire the property though eminent domain.

For instance, in Less’ case, her attorney has indicated he will call witnesses for a hearing Nov. 29 and 30 and Dec. 1 to determine whether there is another route “Washingtonville Road” that can accommodate the bike trail instead of Less’ property. That case is before Magistrate Dennis Sarisky, who works for Sweeney.

In the Hough case, appeals judges Jason Smith, Peter Abele and Michael Hess ruled that Welsh and Krichbaum should have held a necessity hearing before holding a hearing on the amount of money Hough should be paid.

The “necessity hearing” needed in the Hough case is to determine whether a necessity exists for the MetroParks to acquire Hough’s land “before proceeding to a determination on compensation,” the ruling states.

An email late Friday to Aaron Young, Mill Creek MetroParks executive director, seeking comment on the ruling was not returned.

The MetroParks initially filed a lawsuit in common pleas court Jan. 24, 2019, seeking to acquire a right of way on the former railroad bed land to complete the last 6.4 miles of its bikeway.

The final phase of the bikeway would continue from the existing second phase at Western Reserve Road in Canfield Township and travel 6.4 miles south to the village of Washingtonville at the Columbiana County line and connect to the existing bikeway in Columbiana County.

The bikeway would follow a former railroad bed owned by Less, Hough and about nine other property owners since they acquired it about 30 years ago when Conrail abandoned it.

The bikeway’s first and second phases run through the northern and central parts of Mahoning County and were created in 2000 and 2001.

Houghás appeal, filed by attorney Molly Johnson, argued that Welsh and Krichbaum should have held a necessity hearing before the hearing on the dollar amount, and the appeals panel agreed.

“Because the trial court did not hold such a hearing and instead allowed the issue of compensation to be submitted to the jury for determination and further allowed the trial to be concluded without first conclusively determining the issue of Mill Creek Park’s authority to appropriate at a necessity hearing, the trial court erred,” the appeals panel found.

It stated that “we concluded the only way to remedy these matters is to vacate the verdict and judgments and remand the case to an earlier stage in the proceedings to determine the issue of authority (to acquire the land) at a necessity hearing.”

Smith, Abele and Hess are hearing the matter on assignment from the Ohio Supreme Court instead of the judges of the 7th District Court of Appeals based in Youngstown. Generally, appeals judges recuse themselves from hearing a case if they feel they have a potential conflict of interest.

The bikeway is part of Great Ohio Lake-To-River Greenway, intended to run from Ashtabula Harbor in Ashtabula to the Ohio River near East Liverpool.


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