Aberdeen Lane resident Pat Hyland asked members of Solon City Council on Monday for a favor before making any decision on the proposed rails-to-trails project linking Solon to Bainbridge Township – get out a tape measure.
“Measure out 20 feet, 25 feet and 30 feet,” Mr. Hyland said, “and imagine a 10-foot wide black top path that would be that close. “Ask yourself, ‘would I want this in my backyard?’”
Mr. Hyland’s comments were part of ongoing debate on the proposed trail, costs of which have escalated from an estimated $1 million to $2.9 million. More than 50 residents turned out Monday and spoke both for and against the proposal.
An ordinance accepting the proposal of Burgess and Niple for professional engineering design services for the project, not to exceed $37,000, was on the second of three required readings. It will come to a vote at City Council’s next meeting on Dec. 17.
“The safety, privacy and well being of Solon residents are far more important than any recreational opportunity,” North Oval resident Elise Seifert said. “Vote no on the $37,000.
“This proposed trail is bad for Solon residents and bad for Solon,” she added. Speaking to Ward 3 Councilman Jeremy Zelwin, she said, “It’s time for you to stand up and support your residents.”
Fears about the trail are overrated, Morning Glory Circle resident Tom Jackson said. The study is necessary to have the right information, he added, noting that the trail has both economic and health benefits.
Mr. Hyland cited the distances from homes along Aberdeen to the trail, noting that “we must put comparisons to the (Cleveland) Metroparks to rest” referring to those who indicated the benefit of a close trail proximity to the metroparks, including those residents along Brighton Trail.
“If we were dealing with 100 feet distance (from the trail), we would not be here tonight,” Mr. Hyland said. “We will have to live with this disruption day and night for years to come.”
Solon Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Bennett said his organization is not speaking for or against the trail right now, but is urging the city to go forward with a feasibility study “to see what this looks like.”
Valley Forge Road resident Kyle Hulewat said his entire backyard will back up to the proposed trail.
“I have full visibility of this whole thing,” he said. One thing that is getting lost in all of the public debate is that there has been no effort to hold one-on-one meetings with residents directly affected by the line of the trail.
“You have not come to us and said, ‘Hey we are putting this trail in. Is there any way to make this work?’” Mr. Hulewat said. “You plowed right through with total disregard to us.”
Briar Hill Drive resident Heather Ferris said that residents must look at “the long ball” when it comes to the trail, similar to the vision when plans for Route 422 were presented years ago.
“Solon would not be what it is without 422,” she said. A trail would be a “huge asset to the city,” Ms. Ferris added. “I understand the inconvenience and impact it has, but the city can work with residents to make it feasible.”
Flanders Drive resident Donna Thomas also favored the trail. “I would be thrilled to have those abandoned railroad tracks that are a huge eyesore and bring down market value taken down.
“I would love to see a trail there,” she added. “It’s a good plan, and I’m in support of it.”
“You can approve the $37,000 for an engineering study, but it won’t change the facts that the homes are too close,” Mr. Hyland said.
City Council members and the administration also weighed in on the discussion.
“I live very close to the second proposed trail and I personally like the idea,” Ward 6 Councilman Robert Shimits said. He said when it comes to making a decision he wants the facts.
“I want to know what it is going to cost and what kind of impact it has,” Mr. Shimits said. “I don’t believe it will be a trail to nowhere.”
Mr. Zelwin said he knows the trail is a “hot topic” but he is someone who does not make a decision without all of the information, such as the cost and engineering impact. “I know there are some people who are not happy because I’m supporting the engineering study.”
He said he was “shocked and saddened” by the $3 million project estimate that escalated from original estimates.
“It took me completely off guard,” Mr. Zelwin said.
All costs associated with the trail were struck from the 2019 budget for now.
Councilman Douglas A. Magill had many lingering questions.
“Where will parking be at Carter Lumber and who will pay for that and what will it cost?” he asked. “Other communities like Bainbridge and Bentleyville haven’t weighed in.
“Chagrin Falls did a council resolution,” Mr. Magill said. “That’s nice and helpful but it’s not meaningful without associated costs and an agreement to pay for it.”
Mr. Magill also asked if the police and fire departments have done an analysis as to the cost to the safety forces patrolling the trail and handling issues.
“How many residents will use the trail?” he continued. “Facts are helpful but they are not determinant.”
“It’s like the chicken and the egg,” Councilman William I. Russo said of what should come first, a vote of council or a feasibility study.
“Before I can make a decision whether I’m for or against it, I have to see what it is going to cost,” Mr. Russo said. “There are other steps that have to take place before we vote.”
That includes a commitment from the metroparks to build a bridge over the Chagrin River in Bentleyville to connect the trail.
“The $3 million in the budget was a mistake to begin with,” Mr. Russo said. “I don’t think that was based on anything real. Before it is put to the public, there needs to be a basis for this number. It gets people excited for no reason.”
Councilwoman Nancy E. Meany said she has “mixed emotions” and her concern is for the residents.
Mayor Edward H. Kraus said sessions with residents thus far have been just initial meetings.
“The benefits of the trail are quite significant,” Mayor Kraus said. “It’s impossible to bike safely around the city. You have to change the connectivity and walkability so people come first.”
He said he has had “great conversations with the metroparks” and a work session is planned for next week.
He said the Cleveland Metroparks, not Bentleyville village, own that portion of the proposed trail.
“It won’t happen overnight and it won’t be easy,” the mayor concluded. “My top concern is that resident issues are addressed, but make no mistake about it, the city needs to move forward, progress and move to the next century.”