An eminent domain case involving an abandoned railroad bed in Mahoning County is headed to the Ohio Supreme Court after an appeals court ruled in favor of a landowner.
The case stems from Mill Creek MetroPark’s plan to extend its rail-to-trail bike path 6 miles through rural Green Township. The 7th District Court of Appeals recently ruled that the Park District lacked the power of eminent domain when it sued for a permanent easement over the bed of the railroad that crosses the property. by Diane Less.
Aaron Young, executive director of Mill Creek MetroParks, said Farm and dairy The Park District Board of Commissioners decided on May 9, after meeting with the district’s legal counsel, to appeal the appeals court’s decision to the state’s highest court.
“Letting go of the problem at this stage would entail some financial responsibility,” he said.
In addition to a costly, years-long legal battle with landowners, at stake in this case is $3 million in federal grants the park district received to fund the bike path expansion.
The appeals court explored whether the creation of a public bicycle path constituted the “conservation of the natural resources of the state” and was “contributory to the general welfare”, which would allow the park district to appropriate private land under Ohio’s revised code. Statute 1545.11.
While previous cases from Ohio found that creating bike lanes and other recreational pathways met these criteria, this was not the case “when dealing with a rural area where it seems that the public need is speculative at best and that the harm to private property owners is super.
The appeals court also said the trial court did not appear to have considered this issue and simply accepted that the park district had passed a resolution declaring the public demand a sufficient public purpose.
Less was one of many landowners who fought the Park District’s use of eminent domain for a bike trail, but she’s the first to have a ruling in her favor.
Landowners have been fighting over the park district for more than three years for control of the abandoned railroad bed. The park district wants to extend its 11-mile rail-to-trail bike path — the Mill Creek MetroParks Bike Path — south. The extension is part of a larger project to create a Great Ohio Lake-to-River Greenway, a county trail system that would connect Lake Erie to the Ohio River.
Beginning in the fall of 2018, Mill Creek MetroParks sued a dozen Mahoning County landowners for permanent easements for the trail. Some of the landowners settled with the Park District out of court, and some were decided by trial. There are six cases still pending with five landowners, Young said, including Less’ case.
Less’ argument focused on the Park District’s authority to take private property under Ohio Revised Code Act 1545.11.
The Board of Commissioners argued that it established the public need for a cycleway in two resolutions, one in 1993 to create the track and one in 2018 to expand it. The 1993 resolution stated that “the public interest required the construction of a bicycle path on a railway right-of-way”.
The 2018 resolution spells out the need to expand the trail stating that it will “provide local and regional users with a safe, uniformly designed and versatile off-road trail facility dedicated to transit and recreational purposes.”
In a 38-page opinion, the court found that none of the park district’s resolutions linked the request for a bike path to general public welfare or the conservation of natural resources.
Farmers Mike and Barb Cameron also have an eminent domain case in the 7th District Court of Appeals. They filed for dismissal last summer after a new amendment to state law prevented a park district from taking land for a recreational trail. The Mill Creek Bike Trail would divide Cameron’s farm, separating much of their pastures and fields from their house and barn.
The Camerons appealed after Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas Judge Anthony D’Apolito ruled in November that the newly enacted legislation did not apply to the Camerons’ case because there was no language indicating that the legislation should be applied retroactively.
(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be reached at 800-837-3419 or [email protected])
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