Commissioners discuss I-70 project

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

ST. CLAIRSVILLE The debate continues in the matter of the proposed I-70 connector road, with Belmont County Commissioners Ginny Favede and Charles R. Probst, Jr. seeking answers to some of their questions before the county commits $1.9 million to its section of the project.

Among the chief issues under discussion was the state of a lawsuit from the late 1990s between the Stewart and Stein families in the court of common pleas.

Aaron Glasgow, attorney hired to represent the commissioners in dealings with the TID, was directed to inquire with the courts to determine if the Steins are obligated to build a township road, and if so to have the court enforce it. Favede and Probst motioned in favor of directing Glasgow, with Commissioner Matt Coffland opposed.

Glasgow pointed out the issue of the Steins' commitment to constructing a road that has never been construction. There is a push for the county or Transportation Improvement District to build the road when it may be another's obligation. The court is expected to hear from the parties and make a determination. He said the process may take months.

"It's not a new lawsuit, it's a continuation of an existing lawsuit, so it would be a shorter process than a full litigation schedule of a year of two," he said.

In the lawsuit, the Stewarts had agreed to have the road constructed within three years made public in a route over their land.

Commissioner Matt Coffland reported a conversation with Lloyd McAdams, deputy director of ODOT District 11, where McAdams informed him that if there is no local commitment the project would be shelved for an estimated period of one to two years. The county has until February to commit funding.

He said scope of the project has changed in the past 12 years. The road is no longer from Route 40 to the Stein property, but a connector road between US 40 and Banfield Road as part of a $20 million project. He said he was inquiring with the engineers' office to determine if the township road that has been in place is being paved by taxpayers. He added that the Steins did not improve the section of road, he never had a secure project on their property until now. The proposed 30-foot road is now an 80-foot road.

Robert Stewart stated that he has not threatened any lawsuit. He added that his family has been in business for five generations in the community. This project will impact his residential property and take two parcels of his miniature golf course business.

"It's a large take of property in addition to what was originally agreed on and never done," he said.

"In 1999 the owners of the property to be developed committed to an agreement," he said, adding that there were specifications for the public road and it was to be done with private funds, not taxpayers' money. He said several other landowners will be affected. He added that he was not opposed to development, but there were too many unanswered questions.

"I'm a landowner that's been told they're going to take my land without any terms, proposals, commitments, I don't have anything in writing. Not one thing. A government agency should not be allowed to do this to anybody. Remember this road was to be built by private funds and a private developer since the courts of Belmont County's determination in 1999, not with taxpayer money," he said.

"Under the original agreement the road was to be built and offered additional access to my property. The new proposed road takes that access away, it takes a large portion of my side yard, it provides for a deceleration lane through my front yard, and it takes the real-estate from my miniature golf course," he said.

"I was stunned and sickened when I read the information in that lawsuit," Favede said. "We are government and we adhere to the law."

Favede pointed out that the commission does not have the money in the infrastructure fund, since $1 million had to be used for street paving. She said the commitment was to provide the funds to ODOT for the entire project when Track funds are received in May. Coffland voice disagreement.

Probst underlined the importance of cooperation and ensuring that all legalities are followed.

"We have to manage this properly, moving forward," he said, adding that the commissioners will meet and discuss the matter with anyone.

Harry White of Banker & White, attorneys at law, representing St. Clair Commons and Equity, it's managing partner in the development, assured the board that if an allocation of fund is made, Equity will be ready to work toward the project's completion. He added that economic development in this area has not been viable in the past 20 years. However, the active economic and real estate development in the area has made an improved traffic system necessary.

White gave his opinion that any potential dispute pursuant to the judgment entry in the lawsuit need not delay construction of the connector road.

Melanie B. Wollenberg, executive vice president with Equity, said she was supportive of cooperation.

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com