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Pine school property dispute goes to nonbinding mediation

By Jeff Gallatin

North Olmsted

North Olmsted city and school officials have agreed to nonbinding mediation as the next step in their two-year dispute over the sale price of property near Pine School where the city is building a flood control retention basin.

North Olmsted law Director Michael Gareau Jr. said the move is an effort to avoid using eminent domain, the process where a public entity takes land for public use.
“Inserting this into the process at this point is a last-ditch effort to avoid the eminent domain process,” he said. “They brought up mediation before and we went back and forth over where it would be binding or nonbinding.”

City and school district officials have been trying to settle on a price for the approximately five acres of property since 2015. City officials want the land so the retention basin can be built to help deal with the flooding that plagues nearby property owners during heavy rains. School officials have said they will sell the land, but want a fair price. City officials have offered $20,000 an acre, with North Olmsted School District officials seeking $40,000. Both entities are basing their price on separate appraisals each had done. After the city offered $30,000 when school district Superintendent Mike Zalar suggested the two sides compromise, the school board turned it down.

During the two years of negotiations, North Olmsted Mayor Kevin Kennedy has said, if necessary, he will use eminent domain court proceedings to obtain the property. School administration officials previously brought up using mediation in an October 2015 letter to Kennedy.

North Olmsted School Board President John Lasko said the district is continuing to work to resolve the dispute.

“The district has dealt in good faith with the city since this matter first was raised just over two years ago,” Lasko said. “In fact, it could have and should have been resolved long ago, and without the city’s threat of a forced taking through eminent domain litigation. Now that the city apparently is willing to proceed with mediation, we are hopeful that an appropriate resolution can be obtained in a timely manner.”

Gareau said the city is ready to deal with either mediation or eminent domain proceedings.

“This is something we’d like to explore,” he said, referring to the mediation. “Although when you go to legal proceedings, you often have mediation.”

He said no specific date has been set for the mediation getting underway yet.

“We’ve been putting names back and forth for doing it,” he said. “But, I’d say it will be in the relatively near future.”

Gareau, who worked with the school district attorneys to get the formal agreement approved last year to allow the city to build the retention basin while the city and schools are still working on determining a sale price for the property, said the retention basin project should be completed this spring, in time to deal with the spring rainy season.

 

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