Aurora Golf Club acquisition becomes final

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published:

Aurora -- The sale of the Aurora Golf Club property, where residents have gone golfing for more than 80 years, is official, Law Director Alan Shorr reported last week.

Shorr announced at City Council's Feb. 11 meeting that the city officially took over the title of the golf club property on Feb. 7.

The title previously was held by Aurora Recreation LLC. Previous golf club owner Hunter Banbury could not be reached for comment.

Shorr said this was the last step in the city's acquisition of the property.

"The [Ohio] EPA completed its review and found it to be in order," Shorr said. "It satisfied their project parameter requirements. The EPA approved the transaction and notified the parties involved. Monies were wired where they needed to go. The deed was filed [Feb. 7]."

Shorr said the city had no timetable for the sale to be completed. "It is really at the discretion of the EPA," he said. "It's about when we expected it to happen."

The golf club is located at 50 Trails End, Aurora.

The course will become a scenic park, city officials have said, and some golf cart paths will be turned into hike and bike trails.

On Dec. 24, after a 30-day public comment period, the Ohio EPA announced it would award the city $4.7 million to restore and protect more than a mile of the Aurora branch of the Chagrin River.

The decision, announced by Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally, meant the city would receive the funding through the Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program to acquire 186 acres of Aurora Golf Club property.

The city submitted its application for the project to the Ohio EPA in September 2012 after the proposal was approved by City Council in May 2012.

"ENVIRONMENTAL gains to be realized from the restoration project are enormous," Nally said. "The city's proposal for this impaired section of stream provides a blueprint to improve water quality and is consistent with the Chagrin River Watershed Action Plan."

The WRRSP funding allows the city to acquire the acreage, remove manmade structures, restore the river's natural flow and floodplain, and forever protect the property from future development, officials said.

The project will restore and protect more than 33 acres of forested riverbank, 14,000 feet of streams and 13 acres of high-quality wetlands.

The WRRSP is part of Ohio's Water Pollution Control Loan Fund, a revolving loan program that provides low-interest loans to cities and sewer districts for wastewater treatment improvements. In exchange for receiving a slightly reduced interest rate on a loan, WPCLF recipients agree to sponsor an environmental protection project.

Aurora's project is sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. It is one of four WRRSP projects the sewer district agreed to sponsor in exchange for an interest rate reduction on a $42 million loan awarded to NEORSD in September to modernize the Southerly Wastewater Treatment Plant in Cuyahoga Heights.

The $4.7 million for the restoration project comes from existing WPCLF monies, but is based on interest payments due on the NEORSD sponsoring loan.

AURORA qualified for the funding based on the project's potential to enhance and protect Ohio's water resources. Downstream of the golf course property, the Aurora branch of the Chagrin River is designated a State Scenic River.

Restoring the impaired section of stream that runs through the golf course may allow for the scenic designation to be extended upstream.

Of the total grant, about $800,000 is slated to be used for restoration of the river and about $3.9 million was paid to the golf course owner, Aurora Recreation LLC, to acquire the land.

Although a handful of local residents opposed the funding, saying the river quality has improved in recent years, the public comments to the Ohio EPA provided no new information, and the agency had already determined there would not be a negative impact to the environment, according to Ohio EPA spokesman Mike Settles.

Mayor James Fisher previously said Council is not interested in investing a lot of money in the land, but has set aside $50,000 in the 2013 budget for work there.

As for residents' concerns about allowing the land to revert to open space, Fisher said it "depends on what set of lenses you're looking through."

Some residents who live near the golf club told city officials in 2012 they were concerned the land would look terrible if the grass is not mowed when it no longer is used as a golf course.

City leaders, though, stressed in 2012 that Aurora Recreation LLC no longer wanted to be in the golf course business.

"Aurora Recreation made a decision to not go forward operating a golf course," Shorr previously said. "It's safe to say it is not going to remain a golf course. And we won't be going into the golf course business."

Former Mayor Lynn McGill previously said city officials were told by golf experts there is no way the city could make money if the city operated the course.

Fisher noted most real estate expects believe green space enhances the value of adjacent properties.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

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