Skating on the wrong site

In the last issue of the Observer, Kevin DeFrank takes issue with the Bay Village Historical Society’s opposition to the current siting of the skate park in city’s Historical Area. His seemingly limitless faith in his city government to do the right thing is admirable. I wish I shared his confidence, but I see the issues quite differently.

Our city officials have approved the siting of a skate park in a Historic Area, an area designated in 1975 to “preserve and restore” the historic character of the city. A historian from the Ohio Historical Society opines that a skate park at this site is inappropriate and will degrade the character of the area, which boasts two National Register Historic buildings in the first donated lakeside park in the city. 

Given these unique qualities of the area, shouldn’t the City at least provide an explanation of how this site is appropriate for a skate park, and ideally do so before it razes an original Cahoon home and puts a 50,000+ pound concrete park there? Adding insult to injury, our city officials refuse to consider an alternative location for the skate park – the backyard of the police station – that many citizens consider to be vastly preferable. 

This location not only avoids many of the problems arising under the Will and city laws, but would be much safer given its close proximity to a whole host of 24-hour response personnel stationed only a few hundred feet away. The site also benefits from much greater buffering by trees and buildings so that nearby residents are less affected by noise arising from the park. 

The Historical Society has pleaded with the skate park group and the city to consider the police station site and has offered to help make the site work. The reasons that have been given for refusing this site are both illustrative and perplexing. 

First, the city indicates that using the police station site will involve a $14,000 investigation/permit from the Ohio EPA. This cost, however, is considerably less than the cost of razing the Cahoon home and the Historical Society and other concerned citizens have volunteered to help defray these costs.  

Suggestions have also been made that the site is unstable, yet no documentation of this has been provided and some knowledgeable observers question whether the site is in fact unstable given the size of the proposed park and its likely location. 

The final and most perplexing reason provided for opposing the police station location is that the site is over an old city landfill, and locating the skate park there might require the city to address potential environmental issues. Although runoff from the three-acre landfill drains into Porter Creek and the surface of the landfill, now covered with grass, is used extensively for soccer and other recreational activities, the landfill apparently has never been tested for hazardous substances to ensure that it is safe. 

One would think that city leaders would be anxious to do this testing. Instead, city leaders oppose the police station site apparently because this location would require them to become knowledgeable about these issues, a reluctance made even more puzzling given the fact that state and federal monies are available to substantially defray testing and clean up costs.

Rather than seizing the opportunity to create a situation in which all interested parties win – skaters get their park, the historical area is not compromised, and the environmental safety of all citizens is protected – city leaders have rejected the police station site out of hand. It is hard to see how this decision is the best interest of our community. 

In his letter, Mr. DeFrank also paints the picture of a litigious Historical Society that is determined to bring baseless litigation against the city of Bay Village. (This litigation is baseless, according to Mr. DeFrank, because he takes at face value the city’s own analysis that it has done nothing wrong).

In any event, if the Historical Society’s legal case was frivolous, it would be foolish for them to pursue it given the city’s willingness to defend itself in court. In 2007 and 2008, for example, the city of Bay Village spent over $600,000 in legal expenses.

I thus cannot agree with Mr. DeFrank’s ultimate conclusion that the city should remain immune from challenge simply because it takes an intractable position and is prepared to pull out the stops in defending itself.

Wendy Wagner lives in Bay Village.

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Volume 2, Issue 7, Posted 11:43 AM, 04.02.2010