MANSFIELD — A tiny, almost forgotten section of Leedy Road dodged a bullet Tuesday afternoon, holding on to its disputed status as a road.
Richland County Commissioner Ed Olson cast an opposition vote to vacating the section of road, which lies on the county line between Richland and Knox counties, just off Ohio 95. Jefferson and Berlin townships are the respective local entities. Olson described the situation as a “legal minefield,” and said it was the most complex road situation he has encountered in 21 years as a commissioner.
After having the site resurveyed to clarify the position of the road right of way, Richland County Engineer Tom Beck urged officially vacating the little-used road, which he called a driveway. Property owner Darla Holtkamp and her companion, Frank Nagy, objected to Beck’s use of the term when Beck said that since it had been called a lane, that implied it wasn’t a public road.
“How many lanes do you have in Richland County?” Nagy asked rhetorically, then answered his own question by pointing out there are 117 roads designated “lane” in Richland County, but they aren’t all considered driveways.
Beck approached the problem from a maintenance responsibility point of view, saying this was the whole reason everyone was at the meeting.
Later, Knox County Commissioner Allen Stockberger disagreed, saying the point of the meeting was strictly to vote on whether or not the road should be vacated, not who would have to take care of it, nor what it would cost.
“This is absolutely a structure that no county engineer would ever build,” Beck said, referring to pictures of the cobbled-together, six-pipe culvert which was put in a few years ago as a means of access to park equipment on Leedy Lane by a contractor working on Ohio 95. The contractor did not consult with either township or county officials.
Beck said if the lane were kept as an official roadway, the maintenance should default to Berlin Township in Knox County because of the surviving bridge card in Knox County Engineer Jim Henry’s files, and because of a long-standing agreement regarding the undisputed portion of Leedy Road, where the townships split maintenance. The disputed section would fall to the east of the section maintained by Berlin Township.
Stockberger introduced paperwork which showed the commissioners from the two counties had met in joint session on July 12, 1909, and agreed to share the expense of a bridge for the road.
Olson said Richland County Assistant Prosecutor Bob Castor advised him that even if the road were vacated, Holtkamp would still have a legal right to use the old road as a driveway under Ohio Revised Code 5553.042, even if it was entirely on the neighbor’s property, because of “adverse possession,” where the property owner could demonstrate having had access to the roadway for over 21 years, thus making it a permanent easement.
Nagy objected to the citing of several ORC statutes, as the vacation process doesn’t allow for the use of different parts of different statutes. Olson said he wanted the record to reflect that the petition for vacation was being filed under only one petition, which is ORC 5553.045. Other variations of this statute were brought up in testimony and discussion, but not in the actual petition for vacation.
Knox County Commissioner Robert Wise said the $300,000 figure regarding the cost of a new bridge was a falsification. Wise said advice from Knox County Engineer Jim Henry and his own further research made it clear to him that a concrete culvert could be installed to replace the current ad hoc culvert for around $20,000 or less.
“It seems to me we ought to take care of our responsibilities and leave this road alone,” Wise said.
Olson said the $300,000 figure was a conversational figure, not a quote. Beck said he believed the figure may have come from his references for what a bridge like the one on Ohio 95 would cost.
“All I can do is go by what our engineer tells us,” Richland County Commissioner Gary Utt said, voting in favor of vacating the road. Richland Commissioner Tim Wert joined him, citing the history of the townships not maintaining it, as well as the road’s lack of economic development potential.
“We need to decide what the right thing to do is,” Knox County Commissioner Teresa Bemiller said. Stockberger and Wise joined her in voting against it.
Olson said he was still not convinced the road had ever been completely abandoned, and cited the legal precedent of the 1909 shared expense of installing the original bridge. He said he felt for the townships, which might get stuck with the situation, but said there was too much historical evidence in favor of keeping the road’s status open to justify vacating it.
Holtkamp said that she was relieved, although she knew much more work was to come.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Holtkamp said.