“As you can imagine, this is very upsetting and difficult for my family, as we have owned parts of this ground for more than 30 years,” Fredericktown [OH] resident Jim Fox said of his closed-door meeting with the Fredericktown Board of Education Thursday night.
During an executive session held after the general meeting, the Fox family said it was told the board plans to acquire 4.3 acres of their land through eminent domain if a settlement in current sale negotiations cannot be reached.
“Last evening the board told me that if we did not sell the ground that they wanted for the price they wanted to pay, they would take the property by eminent domain,” said Fox.
Fredericktown Superintendent Dan Humphrey confirmed Fox’s statement.
“Bottom line is, if negotiations break down and we cannot reach an agreement on a sale price, we will look into eminent domain possibilities,” he said.
Eminent domain allows school systems and other state agencies to purchase land forcibly even when the land is not for sale, or if a sale price cannot be agreed upon.
Humphrey said the land is important to the Fredericktown Schools expansion project. The board would like to use the 4.3 acres in question for parking and a practice field.
“It may be practice fields, it may be parking. We do need parking down there. The plan is not to put a building down there,” Humphrey said.
According to Humphrey, a second access road would also be built on the parcel, upon the specifications of the Ohio School Facilities Commission. The road would run south of the football stadium and exit onto Columbus Road, east of the Fredericktown United Methodist Church. Fox said he is planning to donate the portion of his land needed for the road construction.
The board wants to acquire the four acres, which contains 17 proposed building sites, while it is still vacant.
“We’re looking at what we need down the road. We feel like we’re landlocked back there, and the board is trying to use foresight. We have to make sure that we have what we need for the future,” Humphrey said.
Fox, who has lived in Fredericktown for 43 years, said he has been asked by the school board to attend three closed-door meetings recently, to discuss the matter. Humphrey said the subject has only been discussed in executive sessions because land negotiations are involved.
“Any time you negotiate for land, that’s very legal to negotiate in executive session. Any time you’re dealing with land purchase, that’s how you do it,” he said.
Residents who have expressed concerns about how additional traffic in the area caused by a second access road would affect their property values, privacy and safety, declined to go on record. Humphrey said no residents have spoken to him about the matter, and he was surprised the newspaper had been contacted.
“If they’ve got some concerns, I’d appreciate them sharing those with me or another school board member,” he said. The superintendent said the next Board of Education meeting is July 11, and that public discussion is always part of the general meetings.
Fox, who originally offered to sell the schools 2.3 acres of the area in question, and an additional two acres near the current school property, was turned down.
“It just didn’t meet our needs. We think that our needs are better met by acquiring the land in one piece,” Humphrey explained.
The school district recently had the 4.3 acre parcel appraised, and Humphrey said the schools’ purchase offer, which both he and Fox declined to disclose, was “much higher than the appraisal.”
Humphrey said he believes the two sides are so far apart at this point that negotiations are in jeopardy. Fox agreed. Both sides are consulting attorneys and preparing new offers. Humphrey said eminent domain action would take a school board resolution, which has not yet happened. A jury would then be chosen by the courts to determine a fair price to pay for the land.
Humphrey added that the board’s decision to use eminent domain would be based on what the board members feel is in the best interest of the Fredericktown schools.
“There’s no hard feelings between us and the Foxes. We’re trying to make sound business decisions, just like Jim’s trying to make sound business decisions for his family. I have to look at it from the perspective of 1,200 students and their families, and I want to make sure that we spend the money of the community wisely,” said Humphrey.
Fox said his family’s perspective is a desire for fairness.
“They want ground that I don’t want to sell,” he said. “We had our plans for that land all made, and a month ago they came to us and said they wanted it. They came to us and said, ‘this is what we want.’ We told them what we were willing to sell, two acres that they wanted, plus an additional two separate acres. They turned us down, and now it’s back to what they want. They want the land that we’ve already put money into developing. We feel there has to be some give and take.”
Fox said he was surprised by the board’s plans to use eminent domain as a possible means to acquire the property.
“It is hard to believe that one day you can wake up and the government says ‘we are going to take your property.’ That is what is happening to us,” Fox said.
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