In a move that surprised Canal Winchester officials, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) put the village’s proposed bike path on hold 10 days before a court ruled in favor of a property owner regarding land acquisition for the project.
In a letter dated Sept. 10, ODOT’s District 6 office informed Canal Winchester Mayor Jeff Miller, in advance of the fiscal year 2009 project award lock down, that ODOT decided to take progression of right-of-way appropriations under review and determined Canal Winchester’s bike path project is at a high risk for not achieving a scheduled award date.
"This came up before anything transpired with the jury verdict," reported Gene Hollins, village law director. "It came out of the blue. I don’t know that this is anything but an extension if we need it. We could still press forward and access funding."
The project was moved out of 2009 and into fiscal year 2011.
"Parcel seven (David Lutheran) has not been filed for appropriation and remains unsettled to date, the letters of understanding with the utilities for occupying easements have not been signed, and…Stebelton property hearings have been delayed, placing the committed sale for this project in jeopardy," wrote ODOT District 6 Production Administrator Herbert Ligocki. "Should the village complete the right-of-way acquisitions and acquire agreements with the impacted utilities to occupy easements, the district will consider advancing the project to an earlier sale."
The proposed bike path would extend from the Canal Winchester swimming pool west along Groveport Road, the former Ohio and Erie Canal path, and Scioto Valley Traction Line right of ways, eventually meeting up with the village of Groveport’s bike path at Rager Road.
Jury finds in favor of Stebelton
On Sept. 20, after more than a year of moving through the judicial system and a week-long trial, a Franklin County Common Pleas Court jury handed down a decision in an ongoing disagreement between Groveport Road landowner Richard "Pete" Stebelton and Canal Winchester over land for the bike path.
The jury ruled that the 2.1 acre parcel, located on the northern edge of Stebelton’s 80-acre property, was worth $37,000. It also dealt a serious blow to the joint ODOT and Canal Winchester project by determining the village’s proposed bike path would close off a back entrance to Stebelton’s land, thus creating $558,625 in damages to Stebelton.
"I thought what the jury came up with was fair," said Stebelton. "If they take the land, I’ve got to put in a road and a bridge because I have to be able to get in and out of my property. I don’t know how much a road and a bridge would cost, but even in order to find out, I would have to have engineering done and that is expensive."
By bringing the total to nearly $600,000-a dramatic increase above Canal Winchester’s original offer for the land of more than $9,200-it is back to the drawing board for the transportation department and the village in deciding whether to continue pursuing the Stebelton property or re-route the path.
"I’m a property rights kind of guy and Pete’s a member of our community. I’m glad for Pete," said Miller.
Following an Oct. 1 Canal Winchester council meeting, Hollins remarked, "We respect the jury’s opinion. The biggest issue is not the value of the land as it sits there today. The real issue was damage to the residential land that was left behind and its future property value."
In May 2006, council fixed their offering price for the parcel at $9,249, including any damage to residual land, and decided to file a petition in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court to take the property under eminent domain because the village was unable to reach an agreement with Stebelton.
Following the May meeting, Stebelton said the previous Canal Winchester administration offered him $60,000 for an easement for the bike path. His attorney, Richard Bennett, called the village’s most recent offer of under $10,000 one of the "strangest" things he’s ever seen and said his client was given no explanation why Canal Winchester wanted to take the property instead of pursuing an easement.
"I’m glad this is over," said Stebelton. "I just don’t know what’s going to happen next."
Neither do village officials.
"Now it’s all up to ODOT," concluded Miller.