If you know anything about Agenda 21, you know that cars will be basically eliminated in favor of walking, riding bikes, and using mass transit. You also know that right now across America the push is on to build the infrastructure, including bike paths for our future pack and stack sustainable life style.
You can read in this article written on August 11, 2013 about a central Ohio town called Heath, and their attempt to build a roughly 1.7-mile connection to expand and improve Licking County’s bike path system. By connecting the bike paths of Heath and Newark, bikers could ride uninterrupted from Johnstown to Lakewood High School.
The project has been an uphill climb, as for now the officials have attempted to maintain private property rights. Unfortunately, at the end of the article, while the officials say the bike path project is on hold for now, they are not ruling out at some later date using eminent domain to make this bike path happen, even though, as they themselves ask,
“Is the bike path connector an important enough public project to consider eminent domain?”
Written by Jacob Kanclerz Advocate Reporter Aug. 11, 2013
HEATH — Planners of the bike path connection between Heath and Newark have overcome several hurdles as they’ve tried to secure land access for the route.
But newly discovered issues have thrown kinks in the plan once again, perhaps indefinitely.
The roughly 1.7-mile connection was heralded by local leaders as a way to expand and improve Licking County’s bike path system. By connecting the bike paths of Heath and Newark, bikers could ride uninterrupted from Johnstown to Lakewood High School.
But the connector project, which was to be funded by the Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority and Thomas J. Evans Foundation, might have taken a few too many detours. The land challenges introduced extra road crossings into the route than were originally planned.
“We did not feel we have a good, safe bike path at this time,” said Sarah Wallace, chairwoman of the Evans Foundation, which has funded other bike path projects in the county. “We’re pretty much stalled on it.”
Lack of public land along roads
Rick Platt, president and CEO of the Port Authority, working with Heath Mayor Mark Johns, mapped out a course a few years ago. It ran south from Main Street in Newark between Coffman Road and Builders Drive, west on Faye Drive, south on Keller Drive, and east on Irving Wick Drive, where it would connect with an existing path near the Port Authority.
Part of the plan involved plotting the path on right-of-way land, which is public land alongside roads. In other places, officials pursued obtaining easements — getting permission from the property owner to use the land but not transferring ownership. Another part of the proposed route was leased from the state of Ohio.
However, some of the deeds for properties in the area do not clearly define the amount of right of way land available for the roads.
In some cases, there are parts of the road with no right of way, meaning some property owners own land up to and under the road, said John Groff, chief of the division of building and zoning for Heath. Public officials said it’s something that’s common with older roads and properties across the county.
Where this comes into play for the bike path is on the north side of Irving Wick Drive, just east of the intersection of Keller Drive. The right of way for that property was about 20 feet narrower than previously expected, said Jim Roberts, president of Jobes Henderson, an engineering and surveying firm assisting with the project.
Power poles are located just off the north side of Irving Wick Drive on the property, where Groff said an easement was granted. But that doesn’t leave enough room for a bike path, except to the north side of the power poles, which would be back on private property, Roberts said.
It’s unclear if the owner of that property — G.A. Krebs & Son Inc., according to county tax maps — is interested in granting an easement for the path.
Officials said the lack of land along that part of Irving Wick Drive wasn’t discovered until just recently — around May or June, Roberts said — as the project appeared ready to move forward after resolving previous land issues.
“We were alerted to that at the 11th-and-a-half hour,” Platt said.
Last year, the Port of Authority and Heath tried to persuade the owner of a property on the west side of Keller Drive, north of the train tracks, to grant an easement for the path. The owner, Rozella Lees, refused.
The proposed path was supposed to travel down Keller Drive completely on the west side. South of the tracks on the west side, officials had obtained an easement for a large chunk of land.
Furthermore, Lees’ deed showed she owned land right up to the center of the road, essentially meaning no public access on her side of the road. And, across the road on the east side of Keller Drive, it appeared two property owners had land up to the center of the road too.
But it was discovered in December the city owned a strip of land along that eastern portion of Keller Drive, but the paperwork had never been filed after it had been completed in 1999. It was discovered by Groff after Heath officials were talking about the path holdup, and it was officially filed with the county 13 years later on Dec. 21.
Early in 2013, Platt said easements were obtained from property owners north of the tracks, because the right of way discovered there was too narrow for a path.
“It was no small task,” Platt said. “We persuaded out-of-state owners to help with a community project.”
Land too narrow
After the way for the path was cleared on the east side of Keller Drive, the idea was to have the rest of the path go down that side, Roberts said. But problems arose once more south of the tracks.
The right of way along most of Keller Drive’s east side is too narrow for a bike path, Roberts said. Another property owner just south of the tracks granted an easement for some more land, but path planners would still have to have the path cross over to the west side of the road where the other easement was secured. And when the path approached Irving Wick Drive, it would have to cross over again.
One of the concepts behind planning the path in the first place was to provide a safer route for bicyclists who may have been traveling along those roads already.
“With better land in the area, you could build it with less crossings,” Platt said. “Is this the safest we can do?”
That’s why Platt said he did not approach the owner of the property at Irving Wick and Keller drives — the one with the power poles — for an easement agreement. There were too many crossings elsewhere in the project to go forward.
Eminent domain a possibility?
So if the plan is stuck on a lack of available land to build a safe route, what options are left? It’s not entirely clear.
“In time, we hope some local landowners will take a different view,” Platt said. “There’s many options that could arise.”
One possible alternative is the use of eminent domain proceedings to acquire the land. Platt said he’s pitched that idea to Johns, but the mayor said he is reluctant to use the often controversial tactic.
“I’d be extremely cautious of doing that,” Johns said about eminent domain, adding that it’s different from easements because it usually goes against property owners’ wishes.
But Johns didn’t rule it out. He said for eminent domain proceedings, a judge would examine if alternatives had been thoroughly explored and assess the overall importance of the project.
So the question now is: Is the bike path connector an important enough public project to consider eminent domain?
“It isn’t to say there isn’t a time or place, but there’s a lot of factors that go into that,” Johns said. “It’s tough for me to answer. … That’s tough for me to say.”
For now, the connector path is postponed indefinitely. Wallace said she didn’t expect a solution to come this year.
“We all have a sense of urgency. … It seemed like it was so close,” Platt said. “If it takes some time to do it, so be it.”