Bay Village Historical Society: Making mountains out of Rose Hills since 2010

This is a response to the Bay Village City Council Meeting on March 15, 2010. During this meeting Council approved the site location for the Bay Skate and Bike Park (BSBP). As a result, the project will now move to the Planning Commission.

Residents representing The Bay Village Historical Society (BVHS) expressed their opposition to this site and promised legal action against the City if such an approval should happen. The BVHS claims that such a location will lead to a violation of the agreement established by the Cahoon Will, and is not the right location because it is within the historical area designated by City Council.

The threat of legal action created a new concern for councilmen deciding the issue because they had to consider the tremendous litigation fees that might burden the City budget as a consequence to their decision. Also during this meeting, Law Director Gary Ebert outlined a historical and legal context surrounding the Cahoon Will and the City’s excellent reputation of addressing possible violations, supporting the idea that simply installing a park does not violate the Will.

I would like to preface my opinion with some background information: I am fond of history. I am fond of Bay Village. I am fond of Bay Village History. After the March 15 meeting, I am NOT fond of The Bay Village Historical Society.

I do not skate. I do not consider myself a biker, “BMXer”, or foot cyclist, of any kind. When I ride a bike it is on the street…sometimes on the sidewalk. Like most people reading this, I will not use a Skate/Bike Park.

I DO appreciate efficient government at the local level. This involves meeting the needs of large groups of residents while considering opposing viewpoints. I also accept that while I do not approve of the BSBP, it is something that will be used by a large group of people and has opportunity to positively affect even more over time. Lastly, I respect the tremendous effort expended over six years by everyone who has worked on the project, all the while having full faith in the political system to deliver results.

With that said, I sat through the March 15 Council meeting with an open mind and listened to both sides of the argument. By the end I found the advocates of the Skate Park to be “wearing the white hat” due to the Historical Society’s curmudgeonly approach.

The BVHS is more at odds with the interests of our community, as well as the Cahoon Will itself than any skate and/or bike park. Let me explain. They suggest the BSBP will lead to a violation of the Will even though extensive evidence to the contrary was presented in a legal opinion at the March 15 Council meeting (minutes of the meeting are posted on the City's website).

The Historical Society website states that in 1901, “because of squabbles over tax revenues, the City of Bay Village was established.” In 1917, Ida Maria Cahoon trusted the young city so much that she gave the Cahoon property to it in her Will. She trusted the Mayor and Council to decide how it was used, with some stipulations of course, not the Historical Society.

The City has created a historical area but the BVHS has no claim to it. In fact, the Will states that “income from the cultivated land and from the houses and buildings on said real estate shall be expended yearly in keeping in order and improving the Park and buildings standing on said real estate.”

It is important to recognize that the Will itself allows for, if not encourages, improvement and cultivation. At very least the proposed Park should be looked simply as a park; an improvement. The argument can also be made that “income” from the BVHS can legitimately be put to use to help fund such a project. Either way, the conservationist argument does not apply to an empty corner of the Cahoon Property and definitely has no substance when considered with the Will.

The area in question has virtually no historical value. Even if it did, it is still not the responsibility of BVHS. That job falls to the Mayor and Council – the Cahoon Park Trustees. While stiff opposition is legitimate in the decision making process, the decision has already been made to send this project to the planning commission.

By threatening legal action in order to coerce Council’s decision and/or deter the project, the BVHS has tried to diminish the integrity of the agreement struck in the Will itself. They have essentially claimed that they know how to use this land better than anyone else. This is not in their job description.

But it gets much worse. Perhaps my biggest problem with the BVHS is their approach. They have now dragged EVERYONE into this issue and I do not appreciate it. It doesn’t matter if you were for, against, or indifferent to a skate park; if they meant what they said, they intend to begin baseless litigation for the purpose of adding expense to the City through legal fees. This is a lose/lose situation for sure, especially to taxpayers. They will risk their funds and credibility on wasteful action during a historically important (bicentennial) year.

The worst part is that in this scenario a victory for them means a loss to every resident/taxpayer and they do not seem to care. Add to the mix (insert: broken national economy comment here) and this issue gets more ridiculous. The BVHS boasts that it is the largest civic organization our City has; however I doubt that all its members considered when they signed up that they might be hijacking the judicial system via frivolous lawsuit.

On a related note, I want readers to know that Professor Wendy Wagner has made this article very difficult to write. Her thorough assessment of this location and presentation of legal challenges to the site has intimidated and inspired me while writing this.

I advise everyone reading this to also read her letter to BVHS President Carole Roske (presented in the March 8, 2010, committee minutes) to get an illustration of challenges to this location. With that said I cannot help but disapprove of her suggestions that ultimately encourage “full-throttle” opposition outside even her own interpretation of the BVHS’s interests.

She says in her letter that it is not intended to be legal advice; however her advice carries more influence because she is a professor and a legal expert. Her suggestion that the BSBP will “induce” a violation of the Will is almost certainly precluded by previous litigation established over time (as outlined by Mr. Ebert during the March 15 meeting).

Further, her suggestion that the BSBP is adverse to the “spirit of the Will” is flimsy. Breaking the spirit of the Will is not grounds for the City to forfeit the property. Even if it was, we are talking about a public park; not a nightclub or racetrack. There is no threat to peace and quiet.

Finally, I agree with Professor Wagner “it is the court, not the City, who has the final word.” But if Ida Cahoon wanted issues like this to be decided by the courts not the City, she would not have created a document that expressly outlines that the City (specifically the Mayor and Council) does indeed have a say…she would have left it up to the courts upon her death and not included anything in her Will.

To Bay Historical Society leadership: Please reconsider your intent to file suit against the City. The President of the BVHS has stated that “Professor Wagner’s letter gives us much to worry about.” Bay resident Tom Phillips has said that he supports a Skate and Bike Park, but he does “not want it in Cahoon Park for obvious reasons because he is a member of the Historical Society.”

But why?! Why does the approval of this location have to make the BSBP your enemy? Will you consider lending credible, legitimate, and constructive input to help this project along as it is evaluated by the planning commission, instead of staunch opposition?

I fail to see why Professor Wagner’s concerns have to incite “worry.” Indeed, they can be obstacles to be overcome by both groups to create a satisfactory result, rather than weapons for one side to use in a litigation-brawl.

To all members of the Bay Historical Society: Please reconsider your affiliation with an organization that will abuse the justice system and risk the welfare of the community to pursue arbitrary goals.

To all Bay Residents: If you are as unhappy as I am, speak up! If your tax dollars going to legal fees instead of an infinite number of other worthy applications, does not sit well with you, spread the word. Or better yet…let the Bay Village Historical Society know how you feel.

Kevin DeFrank lives in Bay Village.

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Volume 2, Issue 6, Posted 8:41 PM, 03.19.2010