GENEVA TOWNSHIP, Ohio — A local business owner has filed a lawsuit against Geneva Township, wireless giant T-Mobile and a Florida-based communications tower company for allegedly encroaching upon his property to bury utility lines, preventing the business from expanding.
Arnold Peet, one of the co-owners and current president of Bend-Fast Inc., filed the lawsuit in Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court. The defendants, which include Geneva Township, T-Mobile and SBA Monarch Towers III LLC as well as individual township officials, have until mid-March to submit a response to the complaint. Geneva Township officials declined to comment to News 5, citing pending litigation.
In 2006, the township entered into a lease agreement with T-Mobile so the wireless company could install a large cell phone tower behind the township’s administrative building on North Cedar Street. The township’s administrative building is adjacent to Peet’s property, which Bend Fast has held since 2005.
According to the lease agreement, T-Mobile agreed to pay $500 for the option to lease part of the township’s property, in addition to a monthly rent of $1000. The lease has been routinely extended every year. The cell tower is currently owned by SBA Monarch Towers III LLC, which leases it back to T-Mobile.
During the construction of the tower, for reasons unknown, fiber optic and electric lines were buried underground beginning at North Cedar street and running parallel with a service road leading to the cell tower. Both the service road and the utility lines course through Peet’s property, according to property surveys and aerial maps at the county auditor’s office.
“T-Mobile, the township, everyone is pointing fingers at each other. As far as I’m concerned, they’re all guilty,” Peet said. “ It’s in everyone’s interest to settle [this dispute] but you have to have a starting point and they just don’t want to move. They’re digging in their heels and they’re just going let it ride.”
Peet said the issue of the underground utility lines came to the forefront in 2019 when he began exploring the possibility of selling part of his property and relocating his operation to the northern half of his four-acre tract of land. A nearby business had expressed interest in purchasing part of Peet’s property but a potential deal was derailed by the discovery of the utility lines.
Peet’s attorney, Dennis DeCamillo, said the utility lines should never have been buried underneath his client’s property to begin with — at least not without his permission or a proper survey, which are ubiquitous in property transactions.
“It’s shocking to me. I’ve got a billboard and if I want to get a permit to put up a billboard, you have to get a survey to mark out where it goes. I can’t do it; I have to get a professional to do it,” DeCamillo said. “Mr. Peet was able to get the county engineer’s office to come out and do their own location survey and figured out that, yes, there is an encroachment here to the tune of 45 to 50 feet.”
The location of the utility lines has effectively rendered nearly an acre of Peet’s property unfit for development. According to the lawsuit, Peet alleges the township, T-Mobile, and SBA Monarch Towers have all profited off of the encroachment while also failing to properly compensate Peet.
The township has collected tens of thousands of dollars in rent payments through the lease of the tower site. The lawsuit alleges T-Mobile and SBA Monarch Towers have utilized Peet’s property without proper compensation.
“For all these years, since 2006, they have been trespassing. They are still trespassing today,” DeCamillo said. “Somebody didn’t do survey work that would have highlighted that was a mistake. I can’t speculate on what party did that.”
The dispute over the utility lines could grow even more complicated. According to the minutes from a township trustee meeting in February 2022, one of the trustees reported that although the township wanted to work out a resolution with Peet, the prosecutor’s office and the cell tower company wanted to take it a step further: eminent domain.
“It’s is amazing to me that is how dug-in people want to get,” DeCamillo said. “It also doesn’t negate the fact that they have taken his property for all these years.”
Both T-Mobile and SBA Monarch Towers have until mid-March to file a response to Peet’s complaint.
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