RUSSELL – Many residents still want to create a second park district in the township even though the current Russell Township Park District Commission is heeding people’s call to purchase the Modroo farm for parkland.
Residents Barbara Berkeley, Shelley Chernin and others have been busy collecting the 400 signatures needed on the petition requesting that Russell Township Trustees establish a new park district under Ohio Revised Code 511. The law requires signatures amounting to at least 10 percent of those who voted in the last general election in the township.
Residents are asking to sign the petition that would put the new district under the direction of township trustees, the two women said.
Under state law, the three commissioners on the existing park board are appointed by Geauga County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Grendell.
The second district would provide a place for residents to donate land for passive parks, supporters have said.
Creating a park under Ohio Revised Code 511.23 would not cost anything and would give more options to the township in the future, Dr. Berkeley and Ms. Chernin said.
Though current commissioners agreed to enter into talks with the Modroo land owners, the two women said it does not guarantee the purchase will be made.
Current park commissioners and the Geauga Land Conservancy are meeting with Mary Modroo to negotiate a deal for about 52 acres of former farmland. Cost estimates have been about $1.5 million. The park commission has about $1.3 million in its general fund which are proceeds from a levy approved and renewed by voters specifically earmarked for parkland purchases.
Residents believe it is time for a change. Russell needs a park district controlled by trustees elected by the people, they said, not a nonresident probate judge.
Judge Grendell this year named two people to the park commission and is in the process of naming the third. Past commissioners have embraced the popular notion that land should be purchased for passive parks, not recreational areas. Many residents have said they worry that the current commission has a different philosophy.
Both parks districts could operate in Russell at the same time, Dr. Berkeley said. Eventually, the goal would be to blend the districts into one, Dr. Berkeley said. “It would bring all the parkland under the control of the township trustees.”
Voters would determine if they want to approve a levy for a new park district, she said.
By the time a new park district is created, residents would know whether the Modroo purchase has gone through, the cost and the amount of money remaining in the current park district’s general fund, Dr. Berkeley said.
If the deal falls through, she added, the newly proposed district could pursue the purchase.
“If we get to preserve the Modroo farm, we got what we wanted,” Dr. Berkeley said. “I think it’s going to be a great thing to have it preserved.”
A conservation easement would ensure the park remains passive. With no easement, she said, all-terrain vehicle trails, shelters and other types of active uses could be added.
“Those of us involved in the movement to purchase the land feel extremely strongly that there should be an approved conservation easement on the land. We want the land to be preserved as is,” Dr. Berkeley said. The next goal would be to preserve the farmhouse and barn, not now being considered in the proposed purchase before the existing commission.
“Most people just want a mowed path” for hiking, Dr. Berkeley said
Russell Trustee Justin Madden said the township will still go forward with a new park district despite the proposed purchase of Modroo land by the existing district.
Trustee Gary Gabram noted trustees would have more control with a new district. “All we are doing is setting up a parallel park district. We’re not dissolving the other park district. We can have our own as long as there is public support. In the future, there may or may not be a levy,” he said.
He noted when the existing park district was established, the township trustees at that time did not want to be involved.
Mr. Gabram said the Modroo property is not likely to be for sale again.
Some residents fear a developer will purchase that land for a new housing community.
Trustee James Mueller said the intent of the ORC 511 park district is to “provide an alternative to the Grendell Park Board.”
Previous park commissioners put conservation easements on the land, and trustees will fight to retain those easements if there is any attempt to negate them, Mr. Mueller said.