Franklin annexation to be decided

By Mike Sever and Diane Smith Record-Courier staff Published:

The Portage County Prosecutor's office has recommended county commissioners reject a petition to annex about four acres of commercial land from Franklin Township to Kent. Commissioners are expected to act on the petition request at their board session today. The owner of the land, Kent 59 Project Ltd., petitioned that 4.36 acres along S.R. 59 just east of the city line be joined to the city. Township trustees and residents opposed the annexation at a Dec. 16 public hearing. The land is the site of a newly built shopping center that includes a pizza shop and video store. It is separated from Kent by two other parcels of land to the west, but fronts on S.R. 59 which is split by the Kent-Franklin border. A legal opinion from Chief Assistant Portage County Prosecutor Denise Smith who heads the civil division said the Ohio Department of Transportation owns the land occupied by S.R. 59, making the property not adjacent to the city and ineligible for annexation. Smith said commissioners do not have jurisdiction to consider an annexation petition unless the proposed property is adjacent to a municipal corporation. At the public hearing, Harry Tipping, attorney for the petitioner's agent, disagreed the land was not eligible for annexation. Tipping said he could cite many cases that have found that, if the state would abandon the state route, it would revert back to abutting property owners, making his client's property contiguous to the city. Township Trustee Keith Benjamin declined comment before commissioners take action. "I really have to wait and see what comes down the line," Benjamin said. "We're always willing to work with people, the city of Kent. "But we'll wait to see what comes down from commissioners. And we'll try to work with the city," he said. Township officials have not had any conversation with the developer since the public hearing, he said. "We didn't think that was appropriate," Benjamin said. Smith said the petitioner may appeal to the courts if commissioners reject the annexation petition, or they may ask ODOT to join in the annexation request, or vacate the property. The property owners sought annexation at the request of city officials. When developers asked for city water, they were given an "agreement to annex," a standard form in which property owners agree to be annexed should their property ever become contiguous with Kent. After council members pointed out this was the first time such a request had come up when the property was contiguous with Kent, council voted to ask the property owners to annex. Councilman Robert Felton said Smith's ruling may hinder Kent's ability to expand its tax base by expanding its borders, adding that Kent is running out of undeveloped land. "The way annexation works is you take a little piece of property and inch your way down the road," he said. "There are some very nice properties in Franklin Township. This decision may hinder Kent's ability to acquire those properties."

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