Rocky Fork Enterprise

City to start work on trail with lawsuit pending

The continued impasse between the city of Gahanna and property owner George Weber has prompted both sides to ask the courts to determine his property's value.

In the meantime, Weber is allowing the city to begin construction of the Big Walnut Trail.

Gahanna parks director Tony Collins asked Gahanna City Council's parks-recreation and development committee Monday night for an easement for the Big Walnut Trail.

In March, Gahanna City Council authorized city law director Tom Weber to file in court an "appropriation of property" lawsuit for parkland if negotiations fail with George Weber, 258 James Road.

The city has been working with George Weber for two years to purchase 10 to 13 acres in the southwest flood plain. The city had Weber's letter of intent to sell after receiving a Clean Ohio grant for a planned Big Walnut Trail.

When the city made an official offer at fair market value, Weber demanded more money. The city appraised the property at $12,500 per acre. Weber had it appraised at $14,000 per acre but was asking for $25,000 per acre. The city is required to pay no more than fair market value.

Collins asked council to approve an ordinance authorizing the mayor to execute an easement with Weber for 2.731 acres for the trail. He asked council to approve the legislation by emergency when council meets Sept. 2.

Tom Weber said the city filed the lawsuit Aug. 13 with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, and the property owner has 30 days to respond.

"We have filed a complaint," he said. "The ball is in his court to respond to the complaint."

Weber said he advised George Weber to hire counsel, and the city has worked to find a way to resolve the case without litigation, including offering his appraisal price, he said.

"The gentleman wants to go through the process so we are doing it," he said.

Collins told ThisWeek the parks department reached an agreement with Weber to allow the city an easement to his property so construction on the trail could begin.

"He is going to grant an easement to the property," Collins said. "In the meantime we can let the eminent domain work out."

Collins said Weber was granting the city the easement for $1. He said after the easement has been granted, the city may start construction on one of the southern legs of the trail. Construction is expected to begin in the fall.

The city received a $60,000 Clean Ohio grant to purchase three of six parcels for Big Walnut Trail development. The grant expired, and the city was unable to use $20,000 to purchase Weber's property.

Gahanna also received a capital grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for $250,000 to purchase the remaining parcels. The city will use about $221,000 to purchase the first two parcels.

George Weber told ThisWeek it was his intent to let the courts decide the fair value of his land but confirmed that he approved a temporary easement.

"They wanted to get it done this fall," Weber said. "I'm going to go ahead and let them do it."