Rec trails subject of eminent domain bill

Larry Limpf

Park districts, recreation associations and other organizations are monitoring a bill pending in the Ohio House of Representatives that amends the law covering the eminent domain process.
House Bill 476, sponsored by representatives Steve Hambley, R – Brunswick and Don Manning, R – New Middletown, places restrictions on eminent domain actions taken by public agencies that aren’t elected and gives elected officials the power to veto eminent domain actions taken by non-elected agencies at the written request of affected property owners.
In particular, the bill says the veto process applies to land appropriated for use as recreational trails and defines a trail as “a public trail that is used for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, ski touring, canoeing or other non-motorized forms of recreational travel.”
Elected officials in townships as well as municipalities can veto a proposed trail at the request of land owners but not in counties with more than one probate judge.
Neil Munger, director of the Wood County Park District, said the district board hasn’t taken a position on the bill but the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association is monitoring it and opposes the exclusion of park districts from using eminent domain.
“It is extremely rare for park districts to use eminent domain but that is most likely because they can presently use it. Without the potential for eminent domain there is much less motivation for negotiating and I fear very important public projects, such as development of trails, would be extremely difficult in the future,” he said via email.
A post on the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association website says the bill “clearly targets park districts” and resembles another bill introduced last fall by Rep. Manning.
The Ohio Municipal League notified its members about the bill and said it will provide updates as more information becomes available.
HB 476 was introduced Jan. 21 and referred last week to the State and Local Government Committee.
Last September, Rep. Manning introduced a similar bill, HB 288, which received several hearings before the House Civil Justice Committee but didn’t make it out of committee for a floor vote.
He said he sponsored that bill after hearing the concerns of constituents, including farmers, business owners and other land owners, at risk of losing property to a bike trail. Residents in Stark County were also facing a similar situation with that park system.
The organization, Ohio Realtors, also supported HB 288.
“While public recreational trails and paths may add value in many communities, this benefit may be outweighed by the detrimental impact such a taking could have on a property owner’s use and enjoyment of his own property as well as its value,” Beth Wanless, director of government affairs for Ohio Realtors, told the committee.
Brian Housh, vice president of Ohio Trails Partnership, urged the committee to not pass the bill.
“The situation that has led to the introduction of this bill involves a trail project that has been in the works for over 30 years. Landowners are being fairly compensated for the easements required to move the project benefiting the community, region and state forward. Mill Creek MetroParks has been responsible, transparent and fair throughout this process…” he testified.
An analysis of HB 288 by the Legislative Service Commission raised questions about home rule.
“The Ohio Constitution’s home rule amendment grants municipalities the authority to exercise all powers of local self-government. According to the Ohio Supreme Court, eminent domain is within those powers. So, legislative attempts to limit the purpose for which a municipal corporation may take property through eminent domain may not be effective, but only a court can make that determination,” the analysis says.
But that bill, if passed as introduced, would have included specific language prohibiting eminent domain to acquire land for recreations trails: “No real property or any estate, right, or interest therein shall be appropriated under this chapter for the purpose of providing a recreational trail.”
Alex Strickmaker, a legislative aide for Rep. Manning, said that while HB 288 provided a blanket ban on using eminent domain for a recreational trail, HB 476 instead allows local legislative bodies to have veto power over the use for a trail by an unelected government authority.


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