The Mall Road issue enters court

ST. CLAIRSVILLE The Belmont County Commissioners and the Stewart family appeared in common pleas court on Friday, after filing separate motions in November and December respectively calling for the enforcement of a 1999 court order. This court order pertains to establishing Township Road 678, or Newland Road, and calling for the Stein family to construct a connector road from Route 40 to property owned by Stein adjacent to the Ohio Valley Plaza the road from Route 40.

The commissioners and the Stewarts call for the enforcement of the order as it relates to the construction of Township Road 678 as part of the I-70 road improvement project.

A further evidentiary hearing was set for Jan. 24, 8:30 a.m.

The hearing also occurred after the substitution of David Liberati of the prosecutor’s office in place of the council that had been used by the board. Connie Klema represented the Stewarts. Michelle Miller represented the Steins.

Judge Frank Fregiato presided.

Klema put forward the argument that the Steins were obligated to either construct the portion of road or pay the cost of that portion of road toward the overall project.

Miller maintained that the Steins’ position is that the plaintiff’s case was correct and the Steins do no dispute it, but the Stewarts and commissioners waited too many years to seek enforcement of the court order. Fregiato noted that this places the burden of proof onto the Steins.

Miller added that the road that the Steins were obligated to put in place is a length of about 300 feet, different from the $1.9 million pledged by the commissioners to the Transportation Improvement District. This would initiate the construction of a connector road begining near the All Fore One miniature golf course along Route 40, then extend west of the Ohio Valley Plaza behind Sam’s Club and wind behind the Lowe’s Home Improvement store. It would link up with a roadway being constructed behind the Ohio Valley Mall by the Cafaro Company and an ODOT project to extend the new highway to Mall Road.

A memorandum is due Jan. 16. Parties will decide if an on-site inspection will be needed at a later time.

During the past board meeting, Commissioner Mark Thomas had suggested the county withdraw from the suit partially on the grounds of legal expenses. After the hearing, Thomas said he is now inclined to believe the commissioners should remain in the suit, now that it is no longer a fiscal burden and a decision is likely to be rendered reasonably soon.

“We now have the prosecutor’s office representing us and we’re not directly paying any money out to other lawyers, I’m inclined to stay in the case,” Thomas said. “The hearing will be held in three weeks. I’m looking for closure here, whether it be from a court order or some type of settlement.”

He added that he has confidence in the proceedings.

“Judge Fregiato as he always is, was thoroughly prepared to handle this pre-trial, and he will thoroughly be prepared to handle the evidentiary hearing. Beyond that I think and would hope that there could be some dialogue between the parties as to a potential settlement here,” he said. “In my mind, what was agreed to be built 14 years ago may not be a road that is viable road 14 years later. In the big picture, while he’s only responsible for 300-plus feet, if the board of county commissioners agree to commit additional county monies to take the road further into the private development that I’m not sure that road as built today by Mr. Stein will meet the specs that need to be met to finish the road back into the property.”

“The objective is to see the Steins pay their portion of the financial costs of the construction of the road,” said Commissioner Ginny Favede. “I think thus far I have every reason to believe we will be successful in our attempts.”

“I hope the court makes a decision and that we can move forward on this road project,” said Commissioner Matt Coffland. ODOT had set a February deadline for the transfer of funds from the county to the TID so the project could commence.

DeFrank can be reached at