YOUNGSTOWN — The Ohio Supreme Court will likely decide in three to six months whether to hear an appeal of a ruling in the Mill Creek MetroParks Bikeway Eminent Domain case involving Diane Less of Angels for the Animals .
If the court hears the case and rules in favor of Less, it could impact how park districts across the state acquire rights of way to build recreational trails such as bike paths, have officials said.
The MetroParks Board of Directors appealed an April decision by a panel of Central Ohio Court of Appeals judges. The panel said the MetroParks board did not give a legal reason to acquire the right-of-way over land from Less and a company called Green Valley Wood Products, which owns Smith Township.
Earlier this week, an attorney for Less filed a response to the appeal, saying the state’s highest court shouldn’t hear the appeal because it only concerns a narrow issue and isn’t a “matter of public or general interest”.
The filing also argues that the type of land acquisition sought by MetroParks is not permitted by Ohio law, because the law only allows parks to acquire land for use as “forest reserves and conservation of natural resources of the state, including streams, lakes, submerged lands and swamps.
The statue does not permit a park district to use eminent domain for a “bike path solely dedicated to public transportation and recreational purposes,” says Less’ attorney.
MetroParks’ board has never provided “specificity, mention or reference to any goal of conversion to forest reserves or conservation of state natural resources,” says attorney Carl James of Youngstown.
Fourth District appellate judges were assigned to the case by the Ohio Supreme Court. The panel, in Circleville, ordered in April that the Less case be referred to two Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas judges who ruled in favor of MetroParks. He ordered judges to dismiss civil lawsuits from MetroParks seeking to acquire the property.
According to a page on the Ohio Supreme Court website, the court usually decides within three to six months from that point in a case whether it will hear or decline to hear the appeal.
Less’ filing indicates that MetroParks wishes to acquire approximately 2.5 acres along the western edge of its property. Green Valley Wood Products Inc., also a party to the appeal, owns two parcels of land that MetroParks wishes to acquire.
Less has a permanent easement on the Green Valley property that is “certain (Less) properties’ only access to State Road 165, the primary public road,” the filing states.
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.
In the May 25 appeal filing by MetroParks, its attorney said Mill Creek MetroParks is “one of several public park districts in Ohio” that operate under a specific Ohio law that governs the acquisition of properties for use in parks.
“This case provides the court with an opportunity to clarify that Ohio Parks Boards acting under (state law) can continue to appropriate land for recreational trails, such as this court and ( another court) have already tried it.” Its filing indicates that the decision the Supreme Court of Ohio may make in this case “will affect all park boards in Ohio.”
The Less-owned right-of-way is one of 13 parcels MetroParks is seeking to use to complete the third and final 6.4-mile phase of the MetroParks Bikeway in southern Mahoning County.