But Findlay City Council made the vacation of Carrol and Benton streets — two planned streets that never made it to asphalt — far more controversial than it needed to be this week when council strayed sharply from the usual process.
The majority of council members set a bad precedent by disregarding recommendations, including one from the City Planning and Zoning Committee, not to vacate the two streets because there were property owners who opposed the change.
Much of the time, streets or alleys are vacated when affected property owners agree. This was not that scenario.
The original vacation petition had been made by Chris Neely, whose property on Hawthorne Drive abuts a small section of Carrol Street. The action appeared to be dead in May after three different groups advised the vacation should not proceed. There was also strong opposition from Matthias Leguire, a property owner.
But the vacation moved forward when Councilman Grant Russel stepped in and proposed legislation, which required a six-week publication notice in the newspaper. That meant the city, not Neely, would pay the publication cost.
With the publication requirement met recently, the issue resurfaced during Tuesday’s council meeting with five members voting in favor of the revised street vacation. Council President Ron Monday cast the tiebreaking vote to make it 6-5.
There has been no public explanation as to why the five council members — Russel, John Harrington, Dennis Hellmann, Dina Ostrander and Tom Shindledecker — backed the legislation even though advisory groups had rejected the original petition.
The process smacks of favoritism.
The property at the heart of the dispute, at 830 E. Sandusky St., is owned by Leguire, the same person whom city zoning had ordered to take down a fence he had erected along East Sandusky Street last year because it was 42 inches too close to the public right of way.
Leguire’s five-acre lot stretches north from East Sandusky Street and abuts the right of way where city planners had once plotted Carrol and Benton streets.
Neely wanted the streets vacated to stop Leguire from driving on the grass right of way where neighborhood children sometimes play. Leguire had opposed it because he wanted to maintain access from the north side of his property and because vacating the streets would make it more difficult for him to develop his property in the future.
Councilman Tim Watson, one of five council members to oppose the vacation, said council was clearly being asked to decide a neighborhood dispute by intervening in the vacation request. Watson said he felt the city’s zoning code should not be “weaponized.”
We agree. Council’s aggressive action to vacate the two streets makes it appear as though the city is bullying Leguire, especially coming after the fence issue. If so, it must stop.
As a property owner, Leguire has the right to access his property and to contest vacations of streets that abut his property.
There is no benefit to the city in vacating Carrol and Benton streets, and Mayor Lydia Mihalik would be doing the right thing by rescinding council’s action.
If Neely still desires the vacation, he should have to follow the same process as other property owners do. Council should stay out of neighborhood feuds and contested street vacations — at least until they come up for a vote.