Some Jefferson Township residents in the Weldon development by M/I Homes, off Darling and Reynoldsburg-New Albany roads, say they hope the city of Gahanna and M/I Homes reach an amicable solution to retain a path that has connected them to Hannah Park, 6547 Clark State Road.
Weldon resident Sara Martin-Fuller said she and some of her neighbors plan to attend Gahanna City Council’s meeting that begins at 7 p.m. Monday, May 6, at City Hall, 200 S. Hamilton Road, because they’re upset about the closure of a path that has provided residents access to Hannah Park.
“When we all moved into Weldon, there was a path from Darling Road over to Hannah Park’s path that connects to Hannah Farms, as well,” Martin-Fuller said.
She said she moved to Weldon in January, but some families have lived there since October 2018.
“All of a sudden, one day last week, there were people here ripping up all the gravel that was part of the path and told some of our neighbors that they were told to take away the path and that Gahanna didn’t want us to access the park through this path.”
The path is north of the Weldon development. From Hannah Park, the path has connected residents via a paved trail at the rear of the park near a pond.
Gahanna Mayor Tom Kneeland said the city’s planning and development team last year worked diligently to come to an agreement with M/I Homes that would have provided residents of the Weldon development in Jefferson Township with access to Hannah Park.
“Before an agreement could be reached and the necessary legal and contractual steps taken, M/I Homes began work connecting the development and the park,” Kneeland said. “Ultimately, Gahanna City Council decided not to move forward with an agreement.”
Kneeland didn't say why the agreement didn't come to fruition, but he said that decision was communicated to M/I last year, and M/I was told to restore city property to its condition it was in prior to the path installation, which also meant restoring a farm fence on the property boundary.
Kneeland said the restoration work began this year and should be completed soon.
Josh Barkan, vice president of land for M/I Homes Inc., said M/I is aware of the issue concerning the path from Weldon to Hannah Park and has communicated with the residents and will continue to do so.
“We are surprised by the city of Gahanna’s position and are committed to finding a mutually acceptable resolution,” he said.
Gahanna City Council president Brian Metzbower said the developer had proposed creating a path to connect to the existing paved trail at Hannah and would pay Gahanna $150,000 “for the privilege to do so,” according to an email last summer.
He said the developer also had committed to maintaining the path, so there wouldn’t be any financial burden on the city to maintain it.
“I think the sense they (the administration) got from email responses was that there wasn’t the necessary support at the time,” Metzbower said. “These are things we should be having open discussions on. The administration didn’t formally bring it to council for an open and public discussion.”
M/I first approached Jefferson Township about the Weldon project, wanting to build 126 houses on about 62 acres.
That proposal was rejected, and M/I approached Gahanna to possibly annex the property to build 93 houses.
In the end, M/I returned to Jefferson Township, and the Weldon development was approved in late 2016, after an almost 2-year process, with 78 houses on 62 acres.
Metzbower said he hopes council has an open and honest conversation about the path.
“You want to find a good win-win,” he said. “It’s my understanding also that another aspect to this is there was no approval to create the path. I think they (M/I) arguably bear some burden.”
Martin-Fuller said ultimately, M/I “promised” the path to Weldon residents.
“I just hope that Gahanna would be open to us utilizing it without any controversy and letting the kids have access to this without there being ‘us against them,’” she said. “Our children go to the same schools. They should be able to go to the same parks without issues.”
She said the gravel that had been laid to create the path was removed a week ago and replaced with mesh and straw.
Weldon resident Erin Smith said the path had been in place for about a year.
“As early as March or May (last year), I would come back here because we would walk through the Weldon area, trying to decide on where we wanted to live,” she said. “We really enjoyed the path. It allowed me to walk my dog, take a run and anything like that. We had been enjoying it since its first appearance close to a year ago now.”
Smith said she had never heard of any sort of agreement or disagreement between Gahanna and Jefferson Township.
“I just assumed this was something that had been worked out with the city of Gahanna and Jefferson Township,” she said. “From my understanding in 11 years living in Gahanna, Gahanna and Jefferson Township seem to have a pretty good relationship.”
Smith said walking to the park would cause less stress on the property and roadways than residents having to drive to it.
“I know my kid is safe because he has this nice path,” she said. “Now we’re left to wonder if we’ll have that access anymore.”
Smith said she pays Gahanna Soccer Association fees and higher camp fees as a non-Gahanna resident for both Friendship and Hannah parks.
“We pay higher rates, and I have no problem with that because we really enjoy some of Gahanna’s activities,” she said. “But this almost makes me feel alienated. And like we’re not welcome in Gahanna parks. And I know it makes other residents feel alienated, as well.”
Darling Road resident Lorena Popelka said the path was the one thing that eased the pain of the Weldon project.
“No one in Darling wanted the development to begin with,” she said. “It was a highly contested issue. But I do think having the trail made it easier for people to have friends here. My kids have friends in Hannah Farms. They have friends in Weldon.”
If the property had been annexed to Gahanna, she said, the path would have been developed no matter what.
“So, to me, it’s a kind of a moot point,” she said. “Whether it’s Gahanna, whether it’s Jefferson Township or Weldon, the trail should be here. It’s just an easy way for kids to get through. They’ve been using it the last year. I am hoping for a solution.”
Martin-Fuller said residents are concerned because of their children.
“We all have young children,” she said. “Between the probably 20 residents currently in the Weldon development, there has to be 30 children, all under the age of 15. There are very young children. This was a selling point for us from M/I to have access to this park. It’s such a safe pathway, as opposed to these children walking on a busy Clark State or New Albany-Reynoldsburg road or riding bikes to get there.”
Martin-Fuller said it’s disturbing, because the goal is to try to connect communities.
“It’s not just us coming into the park,” she said. “We also want people to take their bikes and ride to the preserve, or go to the different Jefferson Township parks, as well. We want to welcome everyone into the community and not segregate.”
Metzbower said he wants people to feel welcome in Gahanna.
“We do share a school district and we have so much to work together toward,” he said.