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Copley vs. Fairlawn: Neighboring Towns Take Their Walmart Fight to Court

Struggle is over which area gets mega retailer, and whether the loser should bear increased traffic.

A Summit County Court will decide whether Fairlawn has the right to close a road to commercial traffic anticipated by a planned move of  and Sam’s Club stores from Fairlawn to Copley Township. 

At issue is the city’s specific plan to erect a to stop commercial traffic from driving through a Fairlawn neighborhood to get to the new stores – a development that will result in the loss of two major retailers in Fairlawn and an economic gain for Copley Township. 

The plan has been approved by , but Copley Township has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to stop the road closing.

Both sides finished arguments last night (Aug. 24) and await a ruling from Summit County Common Pleas Judge Alison McCarty. 

The Plan

Fairlawn City Council voted to spend $335,000 to install a gate to close off Rothrock just west of Sawgrass Road in Fairlawn. Residents who live beyond the gate would be issued key cards allowing them to pass through. Fairlawn also is planning a radio system that would open the gate as police or fire department vehicles approach. Commercial traffic, garbage trucks, semis, employees heading to work at the stores and other non-residential vehicles, would have to take a longer route to the stores. 

Fairlawn’s position

Fairlawn argues that the gate is necessary to preserve the residential nature of the street. The city maintains that without the gate the development would significantly increase the flow of traffic. 

Copley’s opposition

Copley contends that the gate unconstitutionally discriminates against Copley residents who would be unable to get key cards.  The Township also argues that the gate violates state law requiring free access to public roads and that Fairlawn did not follow the legal steps necessary before closing a road.

Fairlawn’s argument

Fairlawn’s position is that the gate is allowed under the law governing cities' control of their streets (home rule).  The city argues that past case law cities have “home rule authority” to regulate traffic on streets within their jurisdiction. Fairlawn states that it only needs to show a rational reason for the law and that preserving the residential character of the area fulfills the constitutional requirement.

Developments so far

As part of its lawsuit, Copley moved the judge to issue a preliminary injunction. A preliminary injunction would halt construction of the gate and prevent the city from closing the road until the court reaches a final decision regarding the case. Fairlawn has opposed the injunction arguing in part that if they do not begin construction soon it will not be completed before the plants that make asphalt for the project close for the winter.  As a result, Fairlawn will not be able to take advantage of a low contract bid.

Under to Ohio law, a judge deciding on a preliminary injunction should consider four factors: whether the moving party is likely to ultimately succeed, whether the injunction is necessary to prevent irreparable harm, whether an injunction may harm third parties and whether the injunction serves the public interest. 

Status

Judge McCarty heard evidence regarding the motion beginning last Wednesday, August 17. She will issue a ruling but has not set a date. The case is one of four now pending in Summit County Common Pleas Court regarding the proposed development on Rothrock. After Copley filed its lawsuit, the court transferred the other three cases to Judge McCarty.

Copley Township Trustees have not yet voted on whether to approve the development.

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