By Melanie Williamson
Prior to the start of the Vermilion City council meeting on Monday, November 20, there was a public hearing regarding two proposed ordinances that was going to a third reading. James Martymowski, a representative of the developer was there to answer any questions, as were over 20 residents living in that area, who were concerned regarding what was going on.
The first was ordinance 2017-50, which was for “vacating all or parts of Frederick Ave., Edward Dr., Gardiner Dr., Gilbert Dr., Charles Dr., Midway Dr., William Dr., and Edgewood Dr. in Vermilion River Park allotment numbers one and two.” The second ordinance was 2017-54 stated it was “accepting and approving the plat of Vermilion Park Estate, LLC subdivision; a resubdivision of Vermilion River Park allotment numbers one and two.”
According to the explanation provided at the start of the hearing, the streets or portions of the streets proposed to be vacated were at one time laid out for house development. However, the land was never developed. There is no infrastructure in those areas and the developers that own the land have no further plans for development. These are referred to as “paper streets” because they are not developed. If approved, this ordinance would result in all the plots being reverted back to the owner of the property.
Martymowski explained that the reason they are requesting the vacating of the streets is because they are under contract with the Lorain County Metroparks, who are interested in buying the property as one large piece of land. Martymowski suggested and councilman Brian Holmes confirmed that according to the director of the Lorain County Metroparks, they have no plans to develop the land either, but want to purchase it for conservation.
Martymowski had a large layout of the streets in question to show which areas were to be vacated. This caused a stir with the residents in the audience, who all wanted to see and examine the maps to see how the proposal would impact their personal properties. There was a flurry of conversations and questions as the hearing temporarily halted while everyone spoke at once. Martymowski and Holmes took the maps into the seating area for residents to see and attempted to answer questions.
After several minutes, Council president Steve Herron asked for everyone’s attention and explained that the hearing needs to keep going. In response to several seemingly confused and unhappy residents, Martymowski explained that they are not attempting to vacate any streets or portions of streets that have private property on either side. He went on to explain that even if one side of the street is still undeveloped, if there is private property on the other side of the street, they are not allowed to vacate the street.
Some residents started calling out questions from the seating area. One question being why they received letters if their property was not being affected. Council responded that anyone with property 300 feet from the property in question received a letter as required by law. Herron that asserted that if anyone had comments or questions, they needed to approach the podium and state their name and address, opposed to talking from the seating area.
Before inviting people up to the podium, he reiterated that if passed, the ordinance would have no effect on property that is privately owned. The notices were sent out by law, but no personal properties are being impacted.
A resident on Howard Drive stood up and asked why they didn’t know anything about this until now. He stated that they had no idea the property was up for sale and they were never given the opportunity to buy it. Herron responded that the property is owned by the developer, it wasn’t going to auction, so they were not required to notify people or offer it to others. Herron went on to say that once the streets are vacated, all the property reverts to the owner.
The resident pushed the issue further asking what the offer was from the parks to buy the property. Herron responded that once the property is sold, that will be public record. Until then, it is between the metroparks and the developer. Martymowski stepped in and said “it’s our property to sell. We don’t have to offer it to anyone.” To which the resident snapped back about them refusing to say what the offer was for the land.
Another resident stood up stating that he owned four parcels on Gardner, one of the streets that was being partially vacated. He wanted to know if they weren’t trying to vacate the property in front of his, why wasn’t the ordinance more detailed to explain exactly what portions of the streets were being vacated. Clerk of council Gwen Fischer responded that there is a more detailed ordinance specifying what portions of the streets are being vacated, but they only put the summary of the ordinances on the agenda and in the letters.
Another resident from Howard Drive approached the podium and asked if the metroparks buys the land and uses the property, will the city be updating the roads. He followed this up by saying the roads are narrow and already torn up from the garbage trucks. Herron responded that the property wasn’t even sold yet and there were no plans that they knew of for use of the property, so it was too early to discuss whether or not they were going to be fixing the roads.
The same resident also stated that he had read online that Sunrise Developments had plans to build apartment buildings or subsidized housing there. Martymowski responded that he represents Sunrise Development and that was not true or simply very old information. A bit later in the meeting, another resident stood up saying she had also heard Sunrise Developments was planning to build rentals, but again Martymowski stated that was not true.
One resident questioned the use of the land stating that she thought the property behind them was wetlands and protected. Council president Herron responded that none of the property in question was considered wetlands. She followed up her question by asking where the entrance to the property will be. Councilman Holmes reiterated again that there are no plans to develop or use the land, so there are no plans for parking or an entrance. He then stated if anyone had questions for the metroparks, they could call 440-458-5121, which several people wrote down.
Another resident asked why there wasn’t a representative from the metroparks at the hearing to answer questions. Herron responded that they are not part of this process because they have not purchased the land yet. She followed that up by saying the letters sent out were very vague and she still felt someone from the metroparks should have been there.
Regarding the metroparks, another resident questioned whether or not there was an easement they could use to connect their properties with some kind of trail. Again, Herron responded that the metroparks does not own the property yet, so any discussion about what their plans are is jumping the gun. She then asked if the metroparks would be allowed to connect to their road in Indian Ridge for an additional entrance, and Herron responded no. Still questioning the plans, she asked again about plans for the property, and Holmes answered again that there were no plans to develop the property. To which, she responded that there were no plans yet, but there could be later.
One last question was raised by a resident asking Martymowski, “If you knew where all the land was why all the surveying?” Martymowski responded that they are required by law to survey the land prior to doing anything.
While there was still some general uneasiness in the room, council president Herron closed the hearing to move onto the regular city council meeting. As people continued to talk and ask Martymowski questions, Herron requested they move to the other room, so council could continue with the meeting. During the reading of the ordinances, city council voted to pass 2017-50 and 2017-54 allowing for the vacating of the streets or portions of streets listed in the full ordinance.