Belmont Commissioners Take Road Issue to Court

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – A private attorney representing the Belmont County Commission filed court action Wednesday seeking enforcement of a 1999 court order requiring the owner of a proposed development near the Ohio Valley Plaza to improve an access road there.

Richland Township Road 678, also known as Newlin Road, connects U.S. 40 with the Ohio Valley Plaza area, and has been at the center of discussion in Belmont County as commissioners debate the $1.9 million funding of building a new connector road in its place.

The new road would begin near the All Fore One miniature golf course along U.S. 40, then extend west of the Ohio Valley Plaza behind Sam’s Club and wind behind the Lowe’s Home Improvement store. It would link up with a roadway being constructed behind the Ohio Valley Mall by the Cafaro Company, owners of the mall, and an ODOT project to extend the new highway to Mall Road.

Commissioners Ginny Favede and Charles Probst have been reluctant to transfer the $1.9 million for the project since learning of a 1999 filing in Belmont County Common Pleas Court in which Lou Stein – owner of the property west of the Ohio Valley Plaza – had agreed to upgrade Newlin Road as part of an access agreement with the Stewart family – owners of property along U.S. 40. No work has been done to the road since the agreement was signed.

Commissioner Matt Coffland, meanwhile, has twice made motions to transfer the $1.9 million for the road project, and both motions died from a lack of a second.

Commissioners began their Wednesday meeting with a 40-minute executive session to discuss a “court action exemption.” After this, Favede and Probst voted in favor of hiring the Columbus law firm of Isaac, Wiles, Burkholder and Teetor as outside counsel to represent the commission in matters pertaining to the 1999 court case. Coffland voted against the hiring.

Immediately after the vote, attorney Aaron Glasgow with firm left commission chambers to file the court action upstairs. His filing asks the Belmont County Common Pleas Court to enforce the provisions of the 1999 court agreement requiring Stein to pay for improvements to Newlin Road.

Retired Western Division Court Judge Harry White next addressed the commissioners. He represents Equity, a firm developing Stein’s property, now called “St. Clair Commons.”

He told commissioners Equity “is ready, willing and able to work with stakeholders to assure the expeditious construction” of the connector road. White said the road was never improved by Stein because interest in development there “did not materialize,” and the work was never necessary.

Because “there is now active economic and real estate development in the area, an improved traffic system is essential for safety, seamless flow and convenience,” he said. “Consequently, this is the right time for all interested public and private parties to work with ODOT to assure the timely construction of the road, bridge and the infrastructure necessary to support them.”

Property owner Bob Stewart expressed concern that a large amount of his land will be taken to build the connector road, which must conform to federal specifications. He added he isn’t opposed to development in the area, but he hopes a compromise can be reached.

“This isn’t a township road – this is a very large highway development that could go through my side yard, and my front yard,” Stewart said. “I realize there is an easement with the state there, but it’s also going to take away two parcels off of my business property – my miniature golf course. None of that’s being heard.”