Nearly a year ago, David Keller was driving past his family’s land south of Galion and found a pile of logs in their field.
“Who’s cutting down my trees?” the man exclaimed to himself, he recalled during a meeting of the city council on March 14.
He soon found the answer: “The city or their contractors.”
The project was a half-mile extension of the Galion Levant-Dawson trail built across Keller land to connect an existing bike path to Biddle Road.
However, Keller has not approved the work and claims he has not yet received any compensation from the city. The video recording of the meeting, posted on Galion’s Facebook page, contains his request to rectify the situation.
The entry also includes objections from Galion Mayor Tom O’Leary, who said he was surprised that Keller had taken the matter to the city council.
“There are other ways to deal with this,” O’Leary told the man. “I really don’t think it’s in your nature to come in here and make a big deal out of it.”
The Egbert M. Freese Foundation helped fund construction
According to a June 2021 press release from the City, the Levant-Dawson Trail has been on the City’s list of projects for nearly a decade.
Then the opening of the first phase of the project was announced, which was a 0.8 mile long track along the Olentanga River from Harding Way West to a wastewater treatment plant at Hosford Road.
The first phase was built on 12.5 acres of land donated to the city by the Levant family.
“Following three unsuccessful grant requests to government agencies, a project request was made to the Egbert M. Fries Foundation,” the press release reads. “The annual philanthropic foundation funds parks and recreation projects in the city and has also provided $280,931 to help build the Levant-Dawson Trail.”
In the summer of 2021, the city announced its intention to start the second phase of the project. The second route will intersect with the first route north of the sewage treatment plant and then run half a mile west towards Biddle Road.
“We never received the proposed agreement”
During a board meeting on March 14, Keller explained that O’Leary approached him about the project in early 2021.
Keller is a trustee of a family trust that owns several parcels of land in the southern part of Galion. Records from the Crawford County Auditor’s website show that one of these sites is a 50.98-acre site between the city’s wastewater treatment land and Biddle Road.
The trustee said the mayor wanted to purchase the family’s narrow piece of land, half a mile long.
“I offered to make an exchange,” Keller said.
Keller said he allowed the city to survey the land. They found that the narrow trail would take about 1.5 acres from his family’s trust. In exchange for the strip, Keller said he told O’Leary he wanted 1.5 acres of the city added to the east end of his family’s property.
“We never received the proposed agreement,” Keller said. “Never got anything in writing.”
The man claimed that O’Leary told him that the city was considering shortening the second leg of the bike path to leave it on land already owned by Galion and end it at the roundabout at the end of Glade Avenue rather than going to Biddle Road .
“We didn’t agree to any of this”
Keller told board members that no progress had been made on the project for several months. Then, sometime in the spring of 2022, the Ashland County resident visited his family’s property in Galion.
“I drive down Biddle Road, which I rarely do, and look at my field,” Keller said. “There’s a lot of logs.”
So he learned that the city is moving forward along with the bike path. A strip of his forest had disappeared, and heaps of earth were scattered along the Biddle Road.
“No one has ever, by any means — email, phone, whatever — told me what was going on, and apparently asked permission,” Keller said. “We didn’t agree to any of this, and yet it happened.”
Now, he says, city officials are ignoring his calls. A year has passed, he said, and the family has almost gotten to the point of wanting to cancel any potential deals with the city in order to clean up the bike path and restore their dirt and trees.
“It’s just more than aggravating,” Keller said. “Who could do something like that to someone? Just take possession of their property?
“I’ll have to close it”
If the city doesn’t act soon, Keller said, then it will take matters into its own hands.
“It’s a question of responsibility. I own the property,” Keller said. “I have to close it and I hate doing it. The city of Galion – the people of this community – deserve better.”
O’Leary told Keller that he was surprised when the man visited the council members: “a group that has no control over this to draw such a public conclusion from it.”
“It seems out of character to me,” O’Leary said.
The mayor said he would like the man to make an offer, and that the city would either hand over city property or make an offer based on the value of Keller’s land.
A timeline for a decision was not set before the council moved on to further business.