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Little Turtle project likely to forgo eminent domain

The Little Turtle community plaque.
Little Turtle Civic Association

Columbus City Council was expected today to vote on two elements of the nearly $6 million project to make changes to Little Turtle Way in the northeast subdivision Little Turtle. The vote will be delayed because the council canceled it’s meeting to follow COVID-19 protocols.

The agenda for the meeting included an item to repeal a June 2021 resolution to use eminent domain to complete the construction of the project and an ordinance to authorize $5.83 million in spending for the project.

Randy Borntrager, assistant director of the Columbus Department of Public Service, said the city determined using eminent domain for the project wasn’t necessary with a few design changes.

Eminent domain was to be used primarily for cosmetic purposes and sloping, so the land acquisitions can be avoided, Borntrager said.

The city-funded project is designed to improve safety and mobility for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians, Borntrager also said.

Phil Harmon, a resident of the area and the attorney representing the Little Turtle Civic Association, objects to the scope and design of the project, but was pleased to learn the city won’t pursue eminent domain.

“We’re pleased to hear that the city is going to repeal that legislation, we felt that was unlawful legislation to begin with,” Harmon said.

The project will combine the now-separated northbound and southbound lanes of Little Turtle Way into a unified two-way road between Blue Jacket Road and the westbound ramp for state Route 161.

The plan includes adding a roundabout, sidewalk and shared-use paths.

Borntrager said the project is “much needed” in an area of the city that is the fastest-growing, according to Census data.

The changes will “ensure access for all users,” decrease congestion and add safety features, Borntrager said. The project fits into the philosophy of the Vision Zero Columbus project, meant to reduce deaths caused by traffic crashes in the city, he said.

But, Harmon said the project isn’t good for local residents by making it “more dangerous” and less park-like, a feature residents enjoy about the area.

“The plan is to consolidate a beautiful boulevard that has large greenspace in between into a single roadway, and that boulevard has been there since the beginning of the Little Turtle community,” Harmon said.

Borntrager said the area was studied carefully and designers made about a dozen changes to the plans in order to accommodate concerns, like widening the shared-use paths so they can be used for emergency vehicles if the roadway is blocked. This and similar projects are designed to reduce the 60 traffic deaths in the city a year and accommodate exponential growth, Borntrager said.

Harmon said if the city does move forward with authorizing spending for the project, he expects to file motions with Franklin County Common Pleas Court in hopes of stopping the project.

Borntrager said the judge has ruled in the city’s favor before and he expects the court to do the same if Harmon files anything.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.