An attorney for Fairlawn told a Summit County judge that the mayor and City Council have been granted “broad home-rule authority over their roads” and, therefore, a permanent court injunction preventing the closing of a portion of Rothrock Road should be denied.
Closing arguments in the six-week court battle, in which Copley Township and a Fairlawn resident sued the city to keep the road open for the proposed move of two big-box stores, Walmart and Sam’s Club, took 4½ hours Friday in Common Pleas Judge Alison McCarty’s courtroom.
McCarty told the parties, just before the 5 p.m. courthouse closing time, that she would issue a decision after careful deliberation of both sides’ arguments. She gave no timetable for her decision.
The city closed Rothrock Road to through traffic after learning Walmart and Sam’s Club want to relocate from Rosemont Commons in Fairlawn to a 40-acre lot off Rothrock in the township. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to build a Supercenter store open 24 hours with a full grocery line; Sam’s Club would add fuel pumps and a mini convenience store.
Jordan Berns, an attorney for co-plaintiff Jacob Pollock of Fairlawn, argued first, contending that a city acts illegally when it blocks a road “unreasonably, arbitrarily or capriciously, or when it does so in bad faith.”
The party bringing the action must demonstrate one of those factors — “not all of them, just one,” he said.
Berns cited findings from a 1987 Ohio Supreme Court case, City of Cleveland v. City of Shaker Heights, involving a similar battle over road closings.
The arguments of Fairlawn Mayor Bill Roth and the City Council that the big-box moves would greatly harm the character of a residential neighborhood simply were not true, Berns said.
“Rothrock, in particular, doesn’t have a residential character. It’s bordered by I-77,” Berns said.
“There’s freeway noise 24 hours a day, there are lights from the freeway at night.”
He also argued that only four Fairlawn homes front
“So Rothrock simply doesn’t have a residential character, and just because Mayor Roth says it does, doesn’t make it so,” Berns said.
So, he asked, why would the mayor want to close it?
“He wants to keep big-box retail off Rothrock and on state Route 18, in Fairlawn, where he believes it belongs,” Berns said, “not because of the traffic, but because he wants the retail there.”
Stephen Funk, a Roetzel & Andress attorney who represents Fairlawn, countered by citing Ohio and U.S. Supreme Court rulings granting municipalities “broad home-rule authority over their roads.”
In the U.S. Supreme Court case in particular, which involved the city of Memphis, the high court ruled that “a policy decision” by a local government takes precedence in such disputes.
“The decision whether traffic [on a particular road] is excessive is a policy decision that a City Council needs to make, not the courts,” Funk said.
He said Fairlawn council twice has voted unanimously to permanently close Rothrock to through traffic just west of Sawgrass Drive.
Afterward, outside of court, Roth said that his reasoning was not at all capricious. He said there are 13 residential driveways that go into Rothrock.
Four are private homes in Fairlawn. Seven are private homes in Copley. One of the remaining driveways leads into Fairway Park apartments, which have between 600 and 800 residents, and the other goes into Copley Place, which has more than 130 residents.
There also is Rothrock Place, which is a small cul-de-sac in Fairlawn, which has 12 houses affected by Rothrock Road, Roth said.
About 10 percent of Fairlawn’s housing stock would be affected negatively by a great increase of traffic on Rothrock, he said.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.