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Local man breaks ground on storage facility amid dispute for land

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James Leonard celebrated with family, friends and community supporters for a groundbreaking ceremony Oct. 20 at what will become a self-storage facility near the corner of 38th Street and Keystone Avenue.

It wasn’t exactly the day he imagined, though, because Leonard is currently in a dispute for a relatively small strip of his land.

Leonard purchased the land from Palmer Properties in 2019 but said he didn’t know White Castle, his business neighbor, has an agreement in place for an easement. He said he was in negotiations with White Castle for the easement, which is a 25-by-159 stretch of the property, but the title company advised against it.

Leonard owns the land now but can’t use it, and there’s no indication White Castle is going to give up the easement.

“Morally,” Leonard said, “for this community, this is not the right outcome.”

Leonard, along with family, friends and business partners, break ground on his self-storage facility. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

State Rep. John Bartlett has supported Leonard during this dispute and spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony, saying White Castle has its “foot on his neck.”

Leonard said White Castle’s easement agreement lasts until 2030, but White Castle Vice President Jamie Richardson said the company’s understanding is that as long as the restaurant is there, it has access to the easement.

Richardson declined to go into specifics about the agreement but said Leonard should have known about it because it was legally recorded in the title agreement in 1995.

Leonard believes he will be a better steward of the community than White Castle. He has numerous “Boycott White Castle” signs around the property and hinted at a community project to be built in the future by the self-storage facility. He maintains White Castle doesn’t use the easement and wants the company to drop out of its agreement.

Leonard has placed “Boycott White Castle” signs by the White Castle at the corner of 38th Street and Keystone Avenue. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

White Castle did give up a protected area, Richardson said, in an effort to “bring good will,” and he noted Leonard backed out of negotiations.

“It doesn’t feel appropriate to have it portrayed that we haven’t tried to work this out,” Richardson said.

Leonard has been in a legal battle since, and both sides are waiting for a judge’s opinion. Meanwhile, Leonard is trying to sway public opinion in his favor.

“We want to convey to the public that White Castle may have a legal right because that, by some small sliver, may be an easement,” he said, “but that easement has value, and I’m getting nothing for it.”

38Key Storage is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2021 at 3820 N. Keystone Ave. It will have 94 units ranging from 850 square feet to 1,800 square feet, and the facility will also be a U-Haul dealer.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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