Despite a signed lease agreement and its approval by the Solon City Council Safety and Public Properties Committee last week, the future of the historical Lynch house continues to be debated by city officials.
Councilman William I. Russo, chairman of the safety committee, voted no on the agreement and voiced his opposition. Voting in favor of the agreement were Councilmen Jeremy A. Zelwin and Robert N. Pelunis. The full City Council will have the matter before them at their meeting on Jan. 21.
Among parts of the agreement, the historical society has agreed to place $300,000 into an escrow account for the repairs and renovation of the home at 34025 Bainbridge Road and to place an additional $10,000 into a Maintenance Escrow account for ongoing upkeep of the structure.
But Mr. Russo said he is not confident about how the house will be used.
“My fear is based on what I’ve seen transpire over at the historical society,” Mr. Russo said. “I have no confidence at all that the Lynch home will be used for nothing but storage.
“It is not going to be used to display items,” Mr. Russo added. “They have not shown any ability to display items in a good manner in the existing building they have.” He said the society has had full access to the building for about four years and it is not in good shape or a “good representation.”
Mr. Russo did note that while he opposes this agreement, he applauds the work of Solon Historical Society President and Councilman Robert Shimits and his wife Mary and how they have worked to educate the community about the city’s history.
Mr. Russo said that other historical societies in surrounding communities do not compare to Solon’s, which he believes is very cramped and with no cohesive plan.
Mr. Russo asked Mayor Edward H. Kraus if he is confident the home will be used for what the society has stated. Those uses include expanding space for offices, research, storage and exhibitions.
Mayor Kraus said he does believe the society will carry out their plan and not simply use the building for storage.
Mr. Russo also voiced objections to the committee considering the Lynch house matter for a third time, especially after the panel voted to demolish the structure.
“I’m not real happy this is here a third time,” Mr. Russo said. “I’m voting no, first and foremost this is bicentennial year and the focus should be on putting the Bull home together,” he said referring to another historical house in Solon.
He also said that the city’s master plan calls for the area to be green space and the city officials have an obligation to follow the plan.
Mayor Kraus said it is simply a guide and cited the SOM Center Plaza, where a complete teardown and redevelopment was spelled out in the master plan, but that is not what ultimately happened. “You have to do what is reasonable and practical,” Mayor Kraus said.
Mr. Russo said he does not believe this is a fair comparison in that the SOM Center Plaza is not owned by the city.
Mr. Zelwin said he wanted to state on the record that he does not support the city putting any of its own funds into this project, “but if the historical society wants to do the project with their own money up to the city standards, I’m fine with it.
“I don’t want the house to become a money pit for the historical society where that impacts their ongoing duty to maintain the current historical society,” Mr. Zelwin said.
Mr. Zelwin also said that once the bids come in, there will be a decision point. “I don’t want to get to the point where they (historical society) puts hundreds of thousands in and (then says) bail us out.
“I won’t support the bailout,” Mr. Zelwin said.
Mr. Pelunis said he doesn’t want the taxpayers to be funding this rehabilitation and remodeling.
“This is solely on the society,” he said.
Society treasurer Ken Kvacek, who was in attendance at the meeting, said he is in agreement with all that is in the lease.
Law Director Thomas G. Lobe added that the agreement puts the city in sole control and is the entity making decisions and controlling the bank account. Even though the society can be “at the table,” it will be the city making all final determinations, Mr. Lobe said. The financial burden is on the society and them only, he added.
Mr. Lobe said that once the requests for proposals come back, the society can back out if the amount is in fact too high. They would have the right to terminate the agreement.
The committee also presented a letter from Angee Shaker, director of business and marketing, on her comments on the home from an economic perspective. Mrs. Shaker said that the city is on the path to having a true town center, which it lacks.
She went on to state that if the society were to invest the $300,000 into the Solon Historical Society building instead of the Lynch house, “it could become more accessible and attractive to the community.
“If the city were to use the land that the Lynch house sits on as a community gathering space, Solon families, the Historical Society and surrounding businesses would benefit,” she wrote.
Mrs. Shaker also said many residents in Solon are not familiar with the Lynch home.
“Before making this investment, additional community engagement is needed to help determine what our residents and business community desire before we invest in a home that would be used for storage space.”
Mr. Russo also added that at no time during past discussions through the years was there any interest expressed in this house.
He said in May the administration asked Public Works Director William Drsek to prepare documents to level the house that could be considered by the committee.
“I guess the question is ‘why are we back here with a lease when permission was given to the administration to raze the Lynch home?’” Mr. Russo said.
Mayor Kraus said it was always his intention to negotiate a lease if the rehab of the house was paid for by the historical society and if the city had control over the process.
Mr. Russo questioned why Mr. Drsek was sent to the previous meeting if the mayor ultimately intended to negotiate a lease.
“We didn’t have information at the time that the historical society would pay for it,” the mayor said.
Mr. Russo said the city is spending another $20 million in infrastructure work this year, including work on the Bull house and he does not want the public works department to be distracted with the Lynch house.
Mayor Kraus said Mr. Drsek and his department are quite capable of handling all the projects.
Mr. Russo said because the Lynch structure is in a state of disrepair, he plans to vote against the lease agreement during the upcoming council meeting.
“I am adamantly opposed to how this (has gone),” Mr. Russo said. “I do not believe there is any director involved with this that wants to see it go forward.
“They are tired of being dragged into meetings with this,” Mr. Russo said, “and I think it should stop.
“I don’t think this is something that does anything to benefit the residents of Solon,” he added. “Basically, this is for a small group of people, some of whom don’t even live in Solon.”