COLUMBIA TWP. — A developer is pushing to have an abandoned golf course annexed from Columbia Township into Olmsted Falls to accommodate a proposed residential development and bring the city into Lorain County for the first time.
The annexation is vehemently opposed by Columbia Township trustees. Olmsted Falls Mayor Ann Marie Donegan said city officials there are examining the proposal.
Donegan said developer David Gill and other representatives of the Riverside Golf Association, which owns the roughly 82-acre property, approached Olmsted Falls in March and were told the city wasn’t interested in annexing a residential development.
She said the city suggested it might be interested if the developers changed to a mixed-use zoning project similar to Westlake’s Crocker Park and she said Gill seemed interested. Last week, Donegan said, the developers filed the paperwork to begin the annexation process even though the city had not agreed to go along with it.
“We didn’t seek this, but we have an obligation to review this and now that he’s filed it, we have no choice but to respond,” Donegan said.
Calls to representatives of the old Riverside Golf Course weren’t returned Thursday, but the company has been trying for the past few years to convince Columbia Township officials to allow it to build a 151-home development on the property.
The township ultimately turned down the proposal, and the Riverside Golf Association appealed those decisions to a Lorain County judge. The case had been in mediation, but according to court records and township Trustee Mike Musto, a deal to resolve the dispute in mediation fell apart earlier this year.
Both Musto and Trustee Dick Heidecker said they met with an attorney Thursday to discuss the township’s options to prevent the annexation from taking place if Olmsted Falls decides to accept the proposal.
“Most of the residents are against it,” Heidecker said.
Musto said the ideal outcome would be for Olmsted Falls to simply reject an annexation request, but the township needs to be prepared in case the city decides to go along with the plan.
Musto also said he can’t figure out why Olmsted Falls would want to annex part of Columbia Township. He said the city would be responsible for providing services such as police and fire protection if the annexation went through.
He said he doubts the money the city makes from the taxes in a residential development would be enough to justify the expense involved.
“The only way for the Falls to make money is for them to build a big box store or a mall,” Musto said.
Donegan said Olmsted Falls officials have enjoyed a positive working relationship with their Columbia Township counterparts over the years and have even discussed creating a joint economic development area where the two communities meet along the Cuyahoga County-Lorain County line along Sprague Road.
She said she has put together a group of city officials to determine what the impact of the annexation would be on the city, but that review is far from complete. The ultimate decision would be up to City Council after hearing the report, she said.
Donegan also said she understands the concerns raised by township officials.
“I’m well aware of how people feel about their communities, and they want it to remain the same,” she said.
The Lorain County commissioners also are required to review the annexation, but County Administrator Jim Cordes said because of how the annexation was filed, the commissioners are required by state law to approve it as long as the paperwork is in order.
Cordes said there are several issues that need to be worked out before any development could take place on the old golf course, including where the sewer lines would come from. He said the county has a sewer running down nearby Redfern Road.
Musto said the city also could try to run sewer lines to a development, but he believes the closest place to connect is around a mile away and deep underground.
“That’s $3 million away,” he said.
Cordes said although there are a lot of issues, the desire to develop the property is strong and Columbia Township is one of the fastest-growing areas in the county.
“The property’s going to be developed. How it’s going to be developed is the issue,” he said.
Musto also pointed out that if the annexation were to go through, the property would become part of the city, but also remain part of the township.
Lorain County Board of Elections Director Paul Adams said there are other communities in the county where there are similar dual jurisdictions, such as LaGrange and LaGrange Township and Vermilion and Brownhelm Township. He said in those areas township residents who are also residents of municipalities vote in both elections.
Adams also said that the property would remain part of the Columbia Schools district if the annexation were to go through. He said only the Ohio Board of Education has the power to alter school district boundaries and typically only does so when the districts involved agree to a change.