Henderson leaning toward keeping streets

STEUBENVILLE – Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge David Henderson said he won’t order Mingo Junction to vacate streets to the benefit of a landowner after a hearing on Tuesday.

Henderson, though, won’t issue a formal ruling for at least three weeks while attorneys for both sides prepare legal arguments on the issue.

G&M Family Partnership of Wintersville owns 9 acres of land in the south end of the village and wants Village Council to vacate easements for part of Elizabeth Street, all of Susanna Street and an unnamed alley. The streets only exist on paper and Gary Smith of the partnership said the only vehicle that could drive on the streets is a bulldozer because of the shrubs and trees.

Attorney John J. Mascio said it would be in the best interests of the citizens to vacate the streets to allow Smith to develop the property. Henderson disagreed, saying only Smith would benefit and not the village.

Mascio approached council a couple times last year about vacating the streets but council wanted to know the development plans. Mascio would only say the development plans couldn’t be completed without Smith having a complete tract of land, without the easements.

Village Solicitor Ernest Wilson told Henderson there needs to be some demonstrable benefit to the village. He said council would be amenable to vacating the streets if Smith stated his intended use of the property.

Current and former members of council and Mayor John Fabian were called to the stand by Mascio.

Fabian said the property used to house the former Ohio Nut and Washer plant but the land has been vacant for more than 30 years. The property is zoned industrial. The mayor said the village wants to keep the easements for future economic development.

Councilman Michael Herrick said council only wanted Smith to come to a meeting.

“If he would have come down before council and told us of the benefits to the village we wouldn’t be here today. All we wanted was a five-minute session with Mr. Smith,” Herrick said.

Former Councilman John Bracone said the village wanted to locate the trash compactor on the right of way surrounded by Smith’s property. But Smith objected and the compactor had to be moved to near the sewer plant.

Bracone said he has lived in the village all his life and didn’t know the streets that Smith wants vacated even existed.

“The gentleman owns the property and he can do with it what he wants,” Bracone said, adding as long as it meets zoning requirements.

Smith said council is not agreeing to vacate the streets as a vendetta against him for objecting to the original placement of the trash compactor. He said the compactor would have odor issues for surrounding businesses.

Smith said it is hard to develop the land because the lots are separated by the street rights of way. He said he can’t build on the property because it is in a flood plain. He noted a railroad spur is a possibility.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t see why I have to come to the village and tell you people what I am going to do,” Smith said, adding no state law requires him to appear before council.

He said there is no benefit to the village in not vacating the streets.

Councilman Adam Peeler said the village has a reputation of running away businesses.

“We want to show we welcome business. If a business wants to come in, we will work hand in hand with them. We can’t give away land based on ifs. I don’t support giving away land or rights of way based on ifs,” he said.

Councilman George Irvin Jr. said he is against giving away easements that the village can’t get back. He said he would be in favor of it if just one job was created. He said he believes the easements for the streets can be used for future development at the former steel mill plant. He said Elizabeth Street has a 50-foot easement.

Mascio added the argument of abandonment to his side of vacating the streets.

Henderson gave Wilson 14 days to respond with a legal brief since Mascio raised the abandonment issue at the last minute. Mascio then will have a week to respond back.

Henderson said he was not going to issue an order that vacating the streets would not be conducive to the general interest of the community until both sides submit legal briefs.