Chagrin Falls Village Council fast-tracked the sale of the village-owned West Orange Street properties Monday by approving a purchase agreement with developer Robert J. Vitt as emergency legislation.
The ordinance to sell the property to Mr. Vitt was approved unanimously, even as former Councilwoman Kathryn Watterson called for more consideration of the plan and a public hearing.
Mrs. Watterson, who introduced herself as a taxpayer and thus "part owner of the property," told council, "The public deserves a full disclosure and a hearing."
In her written statement, she asked that, instead of approving the purchase agreement that night, council spend time studying the agreement and the plans. "Consider the effects of both (and) please allow time for the people you represent to become aware of the terms and allow them to express their opinions before you act irrevocably in our name," she said.
Council President Steve Patton said there had been full disclosure throughout the process. The property has been the subject of discussion "for years" and in September picked up momentum when Mr. Vitt signed a letter of intent to buy it, he said.
According to Mrs. Watterson, the details remained murky, if not "troubling and outrageous."
"The village paid $812,500 for the property (and) Mr. Vitt offers to buy it for $467,000," she said. The village is going further by giving him a $30,000 credit for demolition of the blue office building and a two-family house which remain on the site, she added. That credit reduced the price to $437,000, she said.
The two-family house, now owned by Lawrence Shibley, is to be purchased by the village for $270,000 and immediately sold to Mr. Vitt for the same amount. Mr. Shibley offered to sell the property to add to the land mass considered necessary for viable development.
Mr. Shibley had planned to developed the property into five duplexes and a commercial building but could not close on his agreement with the village because of lack of construction loans.
Mr. Vitt offered to take over the project by self-financing it, changing the plan to all residential with five duplexes and a single-family home.
Mrs. Watterson said the agreement to buy and sell Mr. Shibley's parcel is the mechanism used to obligates the village to pay for demolition.
"I recognize the concerns of the administration and council to try to get some return for the $812,500 of tax money spent for the land, and I realize this is a difficult hillside property and that economic times are not favorable for development right now," she said.
The former councilwoman said the financial loss might be worth it if the development would add to and fit with the "charm and scale of our village" and be a welcoming entrance.
Instead, she said, she sees it as "the Great Wall of Chagrin," explaining how the development would extend 359 feet along West Orange Street in a series of side-by-side four-story homes.
She said that also is detrimental to an existing home built in 1879 on the hillside behind the development. It would be blocked by one of the four-story duplexes to be built directly in front of it, Mrs. Watterson said.
Mayor Thomas Brick said times have changed since the village purchased the properties and that what the village is getting for the property is "close to the current appraisal."
He said the village is receiving no revenue from the vacant land.
Councilman Richard Subel said it costs the village $20,000 for the property's upkeep.
Mr. Brick said the development would add $60,000 in revenue, and the schools would receive "several hundreds of thousands of dollars" in new taxes, which could reduce the cost of future school levies.
Councilman Robert Williams said it was difficult to find developers when the village began seeking qualified buyers, and there is no reason to think it would be easier now.
Mr. Vitt said the site is difficult and expensive to develop, and he will need to spend $1.4 million to stabilize the hill. He said he does not plan to do the project piecemeal but will build it all at one time with a model available by next summer. He said he expects the project to be completed during the third quarter of 2011.
In the near term, Mr. Vitt said he will complete his "due diligence" on the property by the end of January and be ready to close in February, with construction beginning later this winter.
"We plan to move as quickly as possible," he said.