Kaleidoscope: EPA to seek comments on golf course deal; opponents plan to be very vocal

Published:

by Ken Lahmers

Editor

The fate of Aurora Golf Club is still in the hands of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which is reviewing the city's application to acquire about 191 acres of the property -- not the clubhouse and 6.7 acres zoned commercial and 6 acres zoned residential.

A 30-day public comment period is forthcoming, but the EPA says that hasn't been done yet. Its director, Scott J. Nally, anticipates a decision on whether the city will receive a $4.5 million grant from the Water Resources Restoration Sponsorship Program for the acquisition will be made in January.

Some residents who oppose the acquisition have said they will inundate the EPA with comments, and they also plan to send letters to Gov. John Kasich. They encourage other Aurora residents who believe the acquisition is not in the best interest of the city or Northeast Ohio taxpayers to do likewise.

BACKGROUND ON THE ISSUE

In September, the city submitted its application for the Chagrin River protection and restoration / Aurora Golf Club acquisition to the Ohio EPA. The proposal was approved by City Council in May.

Councilman John Kudley was the lone dissenter. He expressed concerns about the EPA's unwillingness to discuss the management plan "until we sign on the dotted line."

WRRSP funds are offered by the EPA from the state's Water Pollution Control Loan Fund to clean up streams and rivers and preserve wetlands.

The acquisition is sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, an organization responsible for wastewater treatment facilities and interceptor sewers in Cuyahoga, Summit, Lake and Lorain counties.

Aurora is not a member of NORSD and would not have to pay back any loan money.

An EPA study completed in 2003 showed water quality was not up to standards in certain parts of the Aurora branch of the Chagrin River upstream from Sunny Lake.

However, at a public forum at Aurora High School in August, some residents noted the water quality has improved since the city took certain measures at Sunny Lake about three or four years ago, making the restoration unnecessary.

At the forum, Amy Brennan of Chagrin River Watershed Partners acknowledged the city's work at Sunny Lake has resolved some water quality issues, but noted her agency believes the golf course acquisition would further improve quality.

One resident at the forum questioned why the state should spend $4.5 million to buy the golf course when improvements could be made for much less without acquiring the property.

Of the total grant, $621,000 is slated to be used for restoration of the river's Aurora branch and the remainder would go to Aurora Recreation, a private firm which owns and operates the golf course, to acquire the land.

The Trust for Public Land and Chagrin Watershed Partners are cooperating with the city to pull off the deal. About 39 acres of existing mowed golf course would be transformed into a forest riparian corridor and floodplain.

For the most part, the fairways and cart paths would not be touched, and grass and trees would overtake the land. Some trails would be permitted, and the city would use some of the small buildings for storage. Active recreation would not be allowed.

SOME PROS AND CONS

Some city officials who support the acquisition have said it would protect the adjacent Aurora Audubon Sanctuary -- the first bird sanctuary established in Ohio -- and would assure that no homes could be built on the property.

A couple of homes still could be erected on the 6 acres that Aurora Recreation would keep.

Some residents said they believe the city doesn't need any more green space, and some feared the golf course -- if left to grow up -- would harbor problem-causing animals and lower the value of adjoining properties.

Resident Amy McDougald stated: "Officials are saying the city isn't spending anything for the acquisition, but there's no such thing as free money."

McDougald also pointed out if the land remains as a golf course, jobs would be retained and the economy boosted, and if homes are built there, at least the city and schools would receive revenue from real estate taxes.

However, some studies indicate a large housing development costs more generally than it yields to a community.

Some residents at the forum said they believe the purchase price for the property is inflated, and others are concerned the city would be severely limited in what it can do with the land because of EPA-imposed restrictions.

Mayor Lynn McGill previously had estimated if the acquisition is completed, the city would have to budget about $50,000 per year to maintain the property, but some residents believe it would be much more.

At a September face-to-face meeting between a handful of acquisition opponents and Nally in Columbus, the residents questioned whether the city followed proper public hearing procedures prior to Council's OK to submit the application to the EPA.

Opponents also claim the city did not send the matter to the planning commission before Council approval, which they claim a city ordinance requires.

The city has since responded to Nally that it followed proper protocol.

Some opponents contend city officials and residents don't have a good enough understanding of the facts to form an opinion whether the acquisition is necessary or good for the city, and that much more dialogue is needed before the EPA acts on the proposal.

The Advocate will keep readers posted as to when the public comment period begins, and report further developments relating to this very important local matter.

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Speaking of McGill, I am sorry to see him leave his post as mayor, and send my best wishes for the future to him and his family.

He has been mayor longer than anyone during my 26 years with the Advocate and even before, and it will be quite a difference not talking to him about city matters.

I haven't agreed with him on some proposals and city projects over the years, but I can say he's always cooperated with the press and answered our questions about what's going on.

McGill loves Aurora, and tried his best to do things that would benefit the city.

He and his wife, Sally, have enjoyed traveling down to Holmes County's Amish country -- as I do -- and he reminisced with me many times about growing up in New Philadelphia and Tuscarawas County, which is my home territory.

I'm sure last weekend's playoff football game between the Greenmen and Quakers was as much of a dilemma for him as it was for me.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-431-9400 ext. 4189

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