Photo by Jamie Wiggan
This construction site stalled by litigation in Robinson is causing residents to worry about safety issues including restricted visibility for drivers.
By Jamie Wiggan
A construction site stalled by years of legal wrangling between a private property owner and Robinson Township has become a safety concern to several residents who voiced their complaints during the township’s Feb. 1 meeting.
The focus of their frustration is growing mounds of gravel overlooking a residential road, which they said poses a safety threat and mires the neighborhood’s appearance.
“We spend tens of thousands of dollars in taxes, we don’t like that rock pile there, OK," said John Richnavsky of Waterford Drive. The unwelcome mound sits upon a construction site on the corner of Waterford Drive and Steubenville Pike. Owned by Five D Development, the site has been vacant since the original Bruster’s Ice Cream stand closed and later relocated across the road.
Intending to build a public road connecting the site to Steubenville Pike at the intersection of Tidball Road, the township filed eminent domain proceedings to acquire part of a neighboring lot, whose owners — E&R Partners — objected and stalled the work indefinitely.
Richnavsky told the commissioners he’s been observing the site for several years and has been carefully documenting the expansion of the gravel piles.
“We’re kind of upset about this,” he said. “You have to tell us what’s going to happen.”
Other residents complained the mound restricts visibility for drivers turning from Waterford onto the Pike, while one added he’d witnessed children playing on the construction site and “throwing rocks at each other.”
Responding to the comments on behalf of the township, solicitor Jack Cambest pointed to the unresolved litigation, which he said put a halt to construction efforts.
“The property owner and the township has been sued by an adjoining property owner, and that has held up the construction project on the piece of property,” Cambest said.
Court records show the township attempted to condemn a portion of the E&R property in May 2018, prompting a swift countersuit from the landowners. The township sought about 180 sq. ft. of the E&R parcel to build a public road with entry points to both private properties, according to the filings.
Disapproving of the township’s plans, E&R resisted the eminent domain proceedings, charging the township with working on behalf of Five D, a corporation formed by Robinson zoning appeals board member Michael Dunn.
“The true reason why this condemnation was filed…is to provide a private landowner…with direct access to Steubenville Pike to enhance Mr. Dunn’s proposed commercial development of the Five D Property,” the filing states. “…Robinson Township has taken sides by helping Mr. Dunn obtain the ability to have driveway or roadway access across from Tidball Road at the expense of E&R.”
Responses filed by Cambest on behalf of the township claim instead the proposed road will improve traffic safety at several points along Steubenville Pike, while enhancing access to both parcels and setting the scene for further development around the site.
“The public good overall is improved, any private gain is immaterial,” the filings claim.
In a later interview, Cambest reaffirmed the action was not taken to benefit Dunn and emphasized the condemned parcel represents “a very small piece of property.”
“What the township wants to do there…is a benefit to both the E&R property and to the Five D property… and the surrounding development,” he said.
With a trial initially set for March 2020, the litigation has been delayed indefinitely by court restrictions in place during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cambest said he was unable to accurately estimate total costs incurred by the township in the suit that has spanned several years and required subpoenas and depositions from more than 10 township affiliates.
Dunn did not respond to requests for comment.