YOUNGSTOWN — The Mill Creek MetroParks Board of Commissioners has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn a decision by a central Ohio appeals court that found MetroParks lacked jurisdiction to use eminent domain to acquire property for the third phase of its cycle path.
MetroParks announced last month that it would appeal the April decision of the Circleville-based appeals court judges. The Ohio Supreme Court may decline to hear the appeal.
MetroParks’ May 25 notice of appeal contains a 19-page memorandum saying the higher court should hear the case because the decision “will affect all parks boards in Ohio.”
The appeals judges of the Circleville 4th District Court of Appeals decided the case on the orders of the Supreme Court of Ohio. The panel ruled against MetroParks and in favor of Green Township owner Diane Less.
The ruling also applied to a separate matter involving the eminent domain case involving the Green Valley Wood Products company and an easement that MetroParks wishes to acquire from that owner.
The appeal panel found that MetroParks had not given a legal reason to acquire the easement in the Less and Green Valley properties.
Less is one of the founders of Angels for Animals, West South Range Road, Canfield, which provides animal shelter, veterinary care and other services. She is one of many landowners fighting against MetroParks’ efforts to acquire rights of way to build the proposed final phase of the MetroParks Greenway in southern Mahoning County, beginning at Western Reserve Road and ending at the line of Columbiana County. The first two 10.6-mile phases begin at the Mahoning County line in Austintown and continue to Western Reserve Road in Canfield Township.
The filing says Mill Creek Metroparks “is one of several public park districts in Ohio” that operate under a specific Ohio law that governs the acquisition of property for the purposes of use of the park.
“This case provides the court with an opportunity to clarify that Ohio parks boards acting under (state law) may continue to appropriate land for recreational trails, such as this court and ( another court) have already tried it,” MetroParks’ filing attorney James Roberts said. and Elizabeth Farbman of Youngstown States.
The filing says the appeal panel erred in concluding that the resolutions approved by the MetroParks board of directors seeking to acquire the property in the Less case did not provide a legal reason to acquire the right-of-way. .
MetroParks’ filing attacks the ruling’s finding that MetroParks had to show that the right of way was “for conservation purposes.”
The appeal panel “jumped to this conclusion” despite the fact that the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas judges who heard Less’ case did not hold a “necessity hearing”, said MetroParks, adding that such a hearing is “mandatory by law.”
The appeal panel should have referred the cases to the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas for a necessity hearing, but instead “focused on the absence of the word ‘conservation’ and” arbitrarily rescinded (the MetroParks) resumed the valid right and necessity “to acquire the right of way, the filing states.
Both cases were heard in the Court of Common Pleas by Justices Maureen Sweeney and John Durkin.
The appeal panel should have concluded that under Ohio law, a park bike path “is an expressly permitted use of the property, which inherently includes the purpose of conservation,” the filing says.
MetroParks began acquiring ownership of its bike path more than 20 years ago by purchasing an old railroad bed, the filing says. It led to the first two existing phases of the bike path, which are 10.6 miles long, 66 feet wide and contain a 10-foot-wide paved path for biking and walking. The first two phases were built in 2000 and 2001. They are primarily grass, the filing says, adding, “These features reflect the inherent conservation objectives of a boardwalk” under Ohio laws governing the use of eminent domain to acquire park land, the filing states.
The appeals court ruling said MetroParks’ 1993 bike lane resolution and 2018 bike lane Phase III resolution are “insufficient.” He said both resolutions “are completely devoid” of any language regarding the need for rights of way to “conserve natural resources.”
The 1993 resolution “simply stated that ‘the public interest requires the construction of a cycleway'” and that “there is no language linking the demands of the cycleway to the general welfare of the public or conservation of natural resources”.
The stated purpose of the 2018 resolution was to “extend the existing bike path” to “provide local and regional users with a versatile, safe and uniformly designed off-road trail facility dedicated to transit and recreational purposes” , said the appeal committee. . This language was also “devoid of any language linking the expansion of the cycleway to the general health and well-being of the public or the conservation of natural resources”, the appeal panel said.
The MetroParks filing indicates that it should be noted that MetroParks’ “authority” under Ohio law which governs eminent domain over park lands and MetroParks’ 1993 resolution declaring its desire to create the bike path “has not been restricted or disrupted” for more than two decades.
The “characteristics” of the southernmost phase of the cycleway “reflect the same conservation objectives inherent in a boardwalk (as) in Phases I and II,” the filing said. The filing states that “the failure to expressly state ‘preservation’ as the purpose of the acquisition is not a material omission, and the appeals court erred in finding otherwise,” according to the filing.
The filing also argues that the appeals court decision “arbitrarily and unlawfully narrowed the scope of all Ohio park councils’ acquisition of property” by its decision and cited a court decision. 2007 Ohio Supreme which involved a bike path on a railroad line in the Sandusky area. .
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in that case that “Erie Metroparks was permitted under (Ohio law) to appropriate property for the construction and use of a recreational trail,” says the folder.
“It could not be clearer that (Mill Creek MetroParks) has the authority to acquire property through (eminent domain) for the construction and use of a recreational trail for biking and walking, as it seeks to do so in this case,” the filing reads. .
Less and his attorney, Carl James, have until about June 24 to respond to MetroParks’ case.