November 27, 2003


County official criticizes Village’s caboose lease

An official with the Greene County Park District has advised the Village that its lease with Caboose Bike & Skate “clearly violates the conditions established” by the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration when the Village and Greene County were planning for the bikepath in the 1980s.

James A. Schneider, the park district’s assistant director and trail manager, recommended in a letter that the Village cease leasing the two yellow cabooses, which it owns, for private enterprise, or relocate the cabooses, and therefore Caboose Bike & Skate, away from the bikepath right-of-way.

While Schneider’s letter states that the Village’s lease violates an agreement with the state, a letter from Kathy A. Ferguson, the deputy chief legal counsel for ODOT, says that the department “has no authority to authorize the operation of a business” along the bikepath right-of-way.

The two letters may add to the confusion surrounding the Village and its lease with Caboose Bike & Skate. The letters, which the Village received this month and released for Village Council’s meeting Nov. 17, responded to a request from Village Manager Rob Hillard asking Greene County, the state and the Federal Highway Administration to allow the “continuation of rental of skates and bikes” from the cabooses on the bikepath.

The Village solicitor, John Chambers, said that the state’s response “makes it essential to try to resolve the issue at the federal level.”

Hillard’s request is the result of action taken in the summer by Council, which has claimed that its lease with Caboose Bike & Skate does not comply with legislation a previous Council passed in 1986 stating that “roadside stands and other private installations” are prohibited within the bikepath right-of-way.

Council plans to bring the Caboose business “into compliance” with the 1986 legislation by limiting its business to rentals only. Council has said that the Village’s original intent was to allow a bike and skate rental business to operate out of the cabooses as an amenity to the bikepath.

However, Caboose Bike & Skate, which is owned by Doug and Chris Roberts, has a 10-year lease with the Village allowing it to sell and rent bicycles, roller skates and related items. The Roberts have argued that the business has always sold bicycles since it opened more than 10 years ago.

In her letter to the Village, Ferguson said that it’s up to the Village to decide the scope of Caboose Bike & Skate’s business. The 1986 legislation does not give ODOT jurisdiction to maintain or regulate the bikepath, Ferguson said.

Last week, Hillard declined to answer questions about the two letters.

Council president Tony Arnett said that he needed to discuss the county’s letter with Chambers before commenting on its contents and how Schneider’s position could affect the Village’s efforts. He did note that because Greene County is responsible for maintaining the bike trail, “they’re an important partner” for the Village.

Council plans to discuss the situation with Hillard and Chambers during an executive session, which is closed to the public, at its next meeting, Dec. 1. The private conversation is being called based on “pending litigation,” which is allowed under the state’s Open Meeting Law.

The Roberts have lobbied Council to find a solution to allow them to stay in business. Both they and Schneider, for instance, have suggested that the Village move the bikepath so the cabooses would not sit within the right-of-way. This would be similar to the design of the bikepath in front of the Yellow Springs Train Station, another structure that the Village owns where a private enterprise, the Chamber of Commerce, is located.

The couple has also said that they would consider taking legal action against the Village for what they describe as a violation of their lease with the Village.

On Monday, Doug Roberts said that it would be premature to take legal action right now. He said that his attorneys have called Council’s resolution from the summer “just a piece of paper” and that the Roberts’s lease with the Village is still legal. He also said that if the Village does break the lease the Roberts would “incur damages” and would deserve compensation.

Roberts noted that the business, which he said they had hoped to sell this year, has “already incurred damages.”

“Who’d buy the business?” he asked. “The lease is in question.” Plus, Roberts said, Council’s action would affect the value of the Caboose Bike & Skate. He said that sales make up over half the company’s revenue.

Roberts also disagreed with Schneider’s claim that congestion around the cabooses “has gotten much worse” over the years. Roberts said that congestion in that area is “pretty rare” since there are now more places to access the bikepath and his customer count is about one-third what it was eight years ago.

—Robert Mihalek