Girard continues fight for 422 property

GIRARD – In addition to the city’s recent acquisition of the former Leatherworks site, Girard Mayor James Melfi said that the city is still negotiating to acquire a large plot of land adjacent to the site on U.S. Route 422.

The city is working with Genesee & Wyoming Inc., current owners of the property that was, at one time, marked to be used as a landfill for construction and demolition debris.

Although Melfi said the city would prefer to acquire the 80 acres at the negotiating table, they are prepared to proceed with an eminent domain lawsuit set to be heard in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court this fall.

“We’ve chosen as a city not to end our lawsuit, but to keep with it with the idea that we need public land for public purposes,” Melfi said.

This development is the latest in a battle between the city and the property’s owners, who have met in multiple levels of court before finding their way back to common pleas court.

In 2005, city officials offered Youngstown Belt Railway Co., which previously owned the property, the then-full appraised value of $41,500 for the undeveloped land between two railroad tracks. The company would not negotiate with the city.

In 2012, the state Supreme Court reversed lower court decisions at the common pleas and appellate level, allowing the city to seize the property by eminent domain.

The railroad took the city to court to stop their purchase of the property, claiming at the time that because they are a railroad and because the property is used for transportation, the Surface Transportation Board in Washington has ultimate jurisdiction over the property.

The city argued that their action did not affect the railway because the property they seized did not have any railroad lines and that their plan to sell the land to be used as a landfill undermined their argument that they needed it for transportation.

The court’s decision to avoid sending the case to Washington was a major win for the city, Melfi said.

“The local courts are front and center here, and they are aware of the situation,” Melfi said. “Another reason we were pleased this case stayed local was because of the cost factor of having to travel to Washington and bring our legal counsel with us. We don’t care to spend taxpayers’ money for that purpose.”

If acquired, the land can only be used for park and recreation purposes because that is the purpose designated by city council.

“The city’s goal is to acquire enough property to put in a walking and biking trail that will eventually hook up to the lake-to-river bike trail in Niles and Weathersfield,” Melfi said. “Our short-term goal is to that there is enough property there that we have our own walking trail, and we could do it fairly quickly.”