Land owners argue against Austin Boulevard widening project

Residents are trying to put the brakes on a $5 million road plan to widen and extend a bike path along Austin Boulevard using eminent domain law previously untested in Montgomery County.

The bike trail extension included in the plan to widen a 0.4 mile section of the road east of the new Interstate 75 interchange would pass within eight feet of a 150-year-old farmhouse, built by farmer Isaac Austin.

Montgomery County officials managing the project said they plan to begin eminent domain proceedings, taking land and securing construction easements from four owners of homes and family farms on the north side of the road, between Washington Church Road and Yankee Street.

“We sympathize with people,” Montgomery County Engineer Paul Gruner said. “We have to make our decisions based on the overall public good.”

After receiving notice from a contractor representing the county, resident Jennie Granato urged commissioners to veto the plan in an Oct. 9 letter obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

Among Granato’s objections: The trail would pass just 7 ½ feet away from the front door of their home, built in 1859 by Austin, according to records. The path will be equally near the bedroom of 84-year-old Mary Granato, according to the letter.

“We use that door as the only access for our mother who is essentially home-bound. When she leaves the house, she must use a wheelchair or a walker. In order to get her into the car, we are forced to drive the car up to the front door and help her get in,” Granato said.

The road widening and extension of the 10-foot path are part of $65 million in road and trail projects planned around the new interchange at Interstate 75.

“In order to not delay the project, we will be filing in court to appropriate the property within the next few days. As is normal, it is our intent to continue our attempts to negotiate after filing,” Gruner said in an email.

Gruner said it was the first time a property owner had urged the county commissioners to stop a property taking through the veto option.

The taking

In June, the Montgomery County commissioners approved the plan widening Austin and extending the trail from Yankee.

A study found the Austin house lacked “historic integrity.” The project comes within eight feet, “but structure will not be physically impacted,” according to a county presentation.

In addition to the farm house, the Granatos own about 16 acres of former Austin farm.

“We’ve been here about 40 years,” Granato said last week. The family used to operate a produce stand in the front yard and still raises grain and corn. An uncle, Albert Granato, and his sister Norma, live in a house next door.

The acquisition by the county would also narrow their driveways and claim hedge rows buffering the road noise, as well as other trees, some which they planted as children, according to the family. They also suspect a culvert draining water under the road will flood their cornfield.

The Granatos hired a lawyer and urged the county commissioners to veto the plan.

The county offered the Granatos $23,875 for the land in front of the house and a temporary easement. The Granatos, and their neighbors, Jim and Terry Hicks, charge the county is undervaluing the land designated for the taking.

Gruner said the objections were typical for such projects.

“Because this is a negotiation, during the process, there are often disagreements. However, when the process is completed, property owners are fairly compensated and generally satisfied,” he said in an email.

In addition, Gruner said the bike path was a priority of people queried about the interchange development plan. Projects including multi-use trails are favored for federal funding, he added.

“We did move the path closer to the road across the front of this parcel, as close to the road as is permitted by ODOT. We don’t bend roads around specific parcels unless there is truly a historic property, other severe environmental impacts, or severe economic impacts,” he said.

While pressing for full value for their land, the residents said they hope the commissioners veto the project or shift it south, across the road, under provisions of eminent domain law in Ohio stemming from an Ohio Supreme Court ruling in overturning a taking in Norwood, a suburb of Cincinnati.

Gruner said it was the first time property owners had sought a veto in Montgomery County and predicted commissioners would uphold the decision. The Granatos’ lawyer was unable to cite a successful veto request.

“It rarely happens, but never have I seen a case where the effect on the property owner is so devastating,” lawyer Matt Fellerhoff said.

Austin Pike

In the early 180o’s, Austin owned 75 acres between Springboro Pike/Ohio 741 and Yankee Street, according to records compiled by the Centerville-Washington Twp. Historical Society.

The land was originally part of a section deeded to Edmund Munger, a general from Ohio who led troops in the War of 1812 and headed one of the area’s original settlements. The wagon trail and road in front of the Austin farm house became known as Austin Pike.

“Originally this road, extending on to Social Row Road, was the way to get to the mill in Franklin from the Wilson and Munger settlements,” according to “Here and There on Old Ohio Roads Between the Miami Rivers” by G. Terrence McConville.

Austin Boulevard

In 2010, the road was renamed Austin Boulevard with the opening of the interchange. Other sections have already been widened, with a bike path added along the north side of the road.

Local leaders have pointed to the area as key to future economic development for Montgomery County, as growth continues south of Dayton into Warren County. More than $400 million in residential, manufacturing or commercial development is planned, under construction or completed at the four corners of the interchange.

There have been other questions about the effects on existing residents.

Just north of Austin Boulevard, homeowners on Washington Church Road are fighting a $3.3 million plan to widen and add a path in front of their homes. This project and the Austin widening are seen as essential to handling increased traffic around the interchange and commercial corridor.

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