About 40 residents crowded Solon City Council chambers Monday, making an 11th hour appeal to officials to save the historical Lynch home from the wrecking ball.
City officials were presented with a petition with more than 1,200 signatures to save the house located at 34025 Bainbridge Road across from City Hall.
The house had been set for demolition on Friday, but Mayor Edward H. Kraus said following the meeting that he would likely move that date to the end of this month so that historical artifacts could be moved out of the structure.
“We would not be able to accomplish that by Friday,” he said.
“For me, it’s the least we can do for the (Solon) Historical Society,” Mayor Kraus said of delaying the demo and allowing them the opportunity to buy or take as a donation some of the historical items. City Council will need to have some sort of legislation declaring those artifacts obsolete, he added. There are doors and windows that are at least salvageable as part of the city’s history, Mayor Kraus said.
The city will pay $14,300 to demolish the house.
By a vote of 3-2 at the last council meeting, an ordinance authorizing a lease agreement between the city and the Solon Historical Society failed, bringing the fate of the home to an end. A total of four affirmative votes were needed for passage. Supporting the ordinance was Councilmen Jeremy A. Zelwin, Robert N. Pelunis and Marc R. Kotora. Opposing it were councilmen William I. Russo and Eugene Macke Bentley. Abstaining from the vote was Councilman Robert Shimits, president of the Solon Historical Society, and Councilwoman Nancy E. Meany, a society board member.
“How do you celebrate 200 years of your history and destroy it?” Solon resident Jennifer Brush said, referring to this year’s bicentennial celebration.
“I understand progress, conveniences and modernization,” Solon resident Lori Pitzer said, “but has council taken the time to listen to its constituents?”
“Once we tear that down, we are not getting it back,” Solon resident Susan Csendes said. She asked the mayor to consider the optics of celebrating a bicentennial while tearing down a piece of the city’s history.
The group in attendance appealed to the mayor for more time, but the city is moving ahead with the demolition.
“I’ve spent the better part of this year trying to save the house,” Mayor Kraus said. “But I’m not a dictator and I don’t run a kingdom.
“These colleagues of mine are equal partners,” he said of council and his support of their ultimate decisions.
Mayor Kraus went on to state that in addition to serving as mayor, he is the city’s safety director and the home is a hazard.
“It’s dangerous and it’s a safety hazard that weighs on me,” Mayor Kraus said. “Frankly, shame on us as a city. We bought it in 2005 and the city has not taken care of the home whatsoever.
“It’s on all of us.”
Ms. Brush said that the Solon Historical Society came up with the money to restore the house, so the financial burden would not rest with the city.
“I don’t see how destroying a piece of our history is better for any of us and it will not cost the taxpayer’s anything,” Mrs. Brush said.
Petition originator Kathy Bull Burke, a 1983 Solon High School graduate, said when she launched the petition, in a little more than 48 hours, they had 1,100 signatures.
“We are heartened by this outpouring of support from the community,” she said.
In attendance at Monday’s meeting were residents and non-residents alike in support of saving the home. That included Beachwood resident Yisrael Harris, whose Bainbridge Road property was linked to Issue 110, a rezoning for a $200 million mixed-use development that included a winery restaurant. Mr. Harris said he came to the meeting for the Lynch house and hopes it can be saved.
“We love Solon, it’s our hometown, and we are hometown proud,” Ms. Burke continued of why the petition was created. “We didn’t want one of the last remaining pieces of our past to meet the wrecking ball.
“Sometimes you have to take on City Hall to do what is right,” she said. “This is one of those times.”
The historical society had hoped to keep the home to expand the society and to provide office and research space, additional storage and to have an additional exhibit space. Among parts of the agreement, the society said it would place $300,000 into an escrow account for the repairs and renovation of the home and place an additional $10,000 into a maintenance escrow account for ongoing upkeep of the structure.
“We have exhausted all our efforts and done everything we were supposed to do by getting a signed lease agreement,” Mr. Shimits said last week. He said he and Mrs. Meany abstained from the vote because their involvement with the historical society made it a conflict of interest.
“It wasn’t a true representation of what council wanted unfortunately,” Mr. Shimits said. “Right now, it’s 100 percent up to the mayor to demolish the house.”
Mrs. Brush also argued that the legality of the decision and cited the Ohio Revised Code, which states that ordinances and resolutions shall be passed by a vote of at least a majority of all members of the legislative authority. She said that, in addition, the vote did not specifically call for the demolition of the house, but rather centered on the lease agreement.
She said the decision came with all sorts of “murky” parts and it warrants legal action “and I would consider it.”
Law Director Thomas G. Lobe argued that the vote was in conformity with the law. “We have seven (members) and four is a majority of legislative authority.”
Mr. Lobe went on to state of Mr. Shimits and Ms. Meany abstaining due to their roles with the historical society that he has a duty to protect the members and advise them of ethical choices.
Mr. Russo said the city charter directs council’s decision is to be guided by the master plan.
Mr. Zelwin told the audience in attendance that when the safety committee voted to demolish the home in May, he heard from no one.
“Why wasn’t it important to people out there then?” Mr. Zelwin asked. “No one reached out to me.”
He said there have been many opportunities over the years to come forward. “It’s disappointing that the house is coming down,” Mr. Zelwin said. “I’m with you, but we can’t be so reactionary and wait until after the votes.”
Mr. Kotora said that he would have liked to see a little more effort to try and work with the city over the last five years. “I agree we are being a bit reactionary at this point,” he said.
It was in 2015 that the fate of the house, built in 1905, began being debated, under former Mayor Susan A. Drucker’s administration.
At that time, the city had authorized the demolition of the structure. What followed was criticism from the society as well as from residents and non-residents. A petition was circulated to save it. The city gave the society a deadline to have an agreement essentially in place and to address a list of issues outlined by the city. The city’s stance to remove the structure then, as it is today, was part of a long-term plan. City officials also stated that it was not worth sinking money into the house due to its deplorable condition.
City Council then unanimously voted to rescind the ordinance which authorized the demolition of the home. This occurred after questions arose regarding how many affirmative votes were needed to approve an ordinance. The move to rescind, Mayor Drucker said at the time, would be in the interest of creating a fair, democratic process and remove any question of legality.
Mr. Shimits said there had been talk of moving the home, which would not do the historical society any good “but if it saved the home, I’m all for it.
“Ideally, we would still love to have the home,” Mr. Shimits said. “We have a public purpose for it and the city doesn’t have to pay. We put our money where our mouths are for the most part.”
Mayor Kraus said he does not believe it is his job to change the decision of council through a veto.
“Obviously I wanted to support and execute a lease on the home, but council has the right to decide,” Mayor Kraus said. “Sometimes you agree with it and sometimes you don’t, but you have to respect it.”
Mrs. Meany said it was a sad night for her.
“Personally, as a citizen, it’s tough,” she said. “I have memories of that area.” But as a council member, she said the decision has been made.
“I wish things could be different, but I’m hopeful that no matter what happens, we can move forward and continue to work together,” Mrs. Meany said.
“I teach my kids how important the past is,” Solon resident John Orosz said. “The kids will know nothing about the past if we keep getting rid of it.”
Mr. Orosz asked how a proposed amphitheater and green space for that area will serve the city. “That property will be better used to teach the young.
“It really upsets me that you guys can put a price on history.”
“We are celebrating our history and tearing down a century home,” Mr. Shimits said. “This is probably the only century home the city has control over saving.”