Bike-path foes take case to Heath council: Residents say city should have looked out for them

Heath and Licking Township residents came to the Heath City Council committee meetings Monday to ask why the city allowed construction of a bike path on land they say Heath residents own.

Published January 8, 2008 by The Newark Advocate 
By KENT MALLETT

HEATH — Heath and Licking Township residents came to the Heath City Council committee meetings Monday to ask why the city allowed construction of a bike path on land they say Heath residents own.

Residents are upset the Evans Foundation removed the Buckeye Central Scenic Railroad's tracks and began installing a bike path along a 6.6-mile corridor from Hopewell Drive in Heath to U.S. 40 in Hebron.

The tracks have been removed from the entire stretch, and asphalt has been laid down in the two-mile section in Heath. The Licking Township section has been prepared for paving, but the surface won't be put down until spring.

Evans Foundation President Gib Reese said the foundation bought the land from the railroad and is installing the bike path as a gift to the community, much as it did with the path from Newark to Granville.

"I think you guys should have come to us and asked what we thought instead of letting this guy do this," Crescent Drive resident John McLaughlin said to council members and Mayor Richard Waugh. "You guys should have been checking this out to see if he could do this. That's the point."

Councilman Tim Kelley said, "In my mind, I assumed he owned that strip. If you look at county maps, it says the Evans Foundation."

McLaughlin responded, "You know what happens when you assume?"

Kelley answered, "If you came in and wanted to pave a stretch of your land and donate it to the city, we'd said we'll look at the deed and everything. But we're not at that stage, yet."

Residents are circulating a petition to property owners opposed to the bike path, filing affidavits with the county recorder's office and consulting with a lawyer for a possible court fight with the foundation, if necessary.

The mayor and council members said the appropriate forum for the debate is in court, not the council.

"The city of Heath is not involved," Waugh said. "The argument is between the Evans Foundation and the landowners. We would not take over any property until the deed is proven. It's a property dispute. Somebody has to be the judge in this, and it's not Heath City Council."

The residents said they should not be forced to spend their time and resources to defend the taking of their land.

McLaughlin said he has filed an affidavit with the recorder's office stating the land is his and he plans to put up "no trespassing" signs.

"If there's anyone on the bike path, I will call police and have them arrested for trespassing," McLaughlin said. "So now your police department will be involved."

Joe and Cheryl Varrasso, who are Licking Township residents opposed to the bike path, showed pictures of quadrunners already riding on the unpaved path.

"The rails came up, and immediately they started to work on it," Joe Varrasso said. "They were in there within a week with all kinds of equipment, tearing it up, putting in limestone, with rollers.

"They'd had the asphalt in if the asphalt plants hadn't closed for the winter. That was the object, to get it in before anybody complained."

Residents said safety issues are involved with the hundreds of railroad ties left sitting along the corridor and with strangers walking in their backyards.

"People are coming into my backyard I don't want to come there," Heath resident Alicia Jenkins said. "I don't know who's in my backyard, 50 feet from my house, with access to my children."

The mayor said he has written a letter to the foundation, asking the hundreds of railroad ties along the corridor be removed. Reese has said the railroad ties will be removed.

Councilman Dick Morrow said the issue should be resolved in court.

"My support is with what the court decides," Morrrow said. "And, if it's your land, it's your land. End of question."