Hamilton bike path proposal met with some resistance

Hamilton Beltline would convert former CSX rail line into bike trail

Privacy and safety are among the concerns some residents have about a proposal to convert a former CSX rail line on Hamilton’s west side into a bike path.

More than 100 people attended two presentations Monday at the Lane Library about the proposed Hamilton Beltline bike path. The proposal would take a former CSX rail line that once serviced the former Champion Paper mill and turn it into a bike path that would connect with the Great Miami River Recreation Bike Trail and other bike paths throughout the city.

While residents were generally supportive of the idea during a public comment session, some expressed concerns about the privacy of homes bordering the proposed trail, safety and crime. The amount of drug activity in the area surrounding the former rail line is a problem, they said.

Others who spoke at the meeting said they were worried about the city’s ability to maintain the bike trail, citing past projects city officials have failed to keep in good repair.

“I’m not against the project, and I’m all for recreation,” said Jerry Lanich, a 45-year resident of Hamilton. “I hope the city isn’t biting off more than it can chew.”

Lanich said over the years he’s seen the maintenance of several recreation projects and amenities get lost amid other priorities in the city.

Hamilton officials are negotiating with CSX to acquire right of way so the city would have control of the property and better manage it. Nick Garuckas, a fellow in the city manager’s office, said the 100-year-old private rail line was obtained by CSX after it went inactive when the former Champion/SMART Paper plant closed in 2012.

After two years of non-use, CSX filed a notice in April 2014 to abandon the 2.96-mile rail line. At that time, Hamilton filed notice that it wanted to consider using the old rail line for a recreation/bike trail, and since then, the city has received extensions to continue to negotiate with CSX for the property.

Garuckas said the city would develop the Hamilton Beltline in phases and would seek state, federal and other funding sources to construct the trail. He said the proposed trail would tie in four neighborhoods and local parks along the route, adding an estimated 19,000 people live within one mile of the trails.

Councilman Rob Wile said if the city does acquire ownership of the old rail line, it would be more responsive to maintenance and other issues.

Still residents like Jim Kelly said he and his neighbors on Carmen Avenue “don’t want it.”

Kelly raised concerns about privacy and his dogs being bothered by passing cyclists or walkers. He was also concerned about vandalism to his and neighbors’ homes because of the easy access from the trail, drainage issues and people walking through his yard.

“We can’t get our road paved, and we want to do this?” Kelly said, questioning the city’s priorities. “How are you going to maintain it? That’s why people are upset.”

Paula Scharf, a resident who supports the project, said, “This has a really positive benefit.” She said she’d be willing to be a steward of the trail that would go behind her home.

Steve Monnin, a resident who takes time to clean up a portion of B Street that he “adopted,” expressed concern about the city’s ability to take care of what it already owns. He raised questions with city officials about the condition of Combs Park to illustrate the point.

Wile thanked Monnin for raising his concerns and admitted the city “still has a long way to go” with maintenance. However, Wile praised the work of the Hamilton Parks Conservancy, the year-old nonprofit that is taking over maintenance of the city’s 1,200 acres of park land.

Eric Olberg, of the Ohio Rails to Trails office, noted that properties along other bike paths in Ohio have actually seen their property values increase. He said while CSX is legally responsible for ongoing maintenance, the local rail line is not a priority for them.

“If the city is not able to develop the property, you’ll lose the opportunity for a trail forever,” he said. “This is a one-shot deal to get this into the public domain.”

Joy Nix, of the Row America Hamilton center and one of several partners with the city on this project, said the trail will help to make the row center “more exciting.” She also said the center hopes to use part of the property to accommodate people who would use this proposed bike trail.

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