Ongoing talks between South Russell and residents of a private development ended in a stalemate, as officials announced that the village is unable to offer money to upgrade Paw Paw Lake Road to public street standards. Village officials, however, said at a Street Commission meeting on July 1 that they would assist residents in finding grant money.

“We’re a $3 million operation with a $1 million road” project, South Russell Mayor William Koons said after the meeting. “It would wipe us out.

“But on the other hand, South Russell will be a better community if they have a nice road through Paw Paw Lake, and I’d like to see that happen,” he said. “There’s got to be a way we can work together, because they need a new road. They came to us to help them, and we’ve got to find a way to help them.”

The July 1 meeting was the first time Paw Paw representatives met with village officials for a public discussion since talks started in earnest in April. The issue revolves around the community’s main drive, which has been a private road maintained by Paw Paw residents since the initial 44-home development began in 1921.

Paw Paw Lake Road Committee Chairman Kent Kristensen has said that resident in the private community still pay taxes to the village without receiving the benefits that other property owners get.

In order for the village to maintain Paw Paw Lake Drive, however, major modifications would need to be completed, including widening the road at certain points where it narrows to a single lane. Mayor Koons said this process would be expensive.

“They called us to a street committee meeting and their engineer didn’t show up,” Mr. Kristensen said recently. “As it turned out, they had excused him in advance but didn’t notify us. You can conclude from there.”

Mayor Koons said village engineer Eric Haibach had been excused from the meeting because he needed to be in Geneva at 8 a.m. that day.

On May 12, the two parties brought state Rep. Diane Grendell, R-Chester, into the conversation to see if she could search out any funding options, to no avail so far.

“First of all, we’re $2.5 billion dollars in debt right now because of this mess, so there’s no money available,” she said during a phone interview referring to the coronavirus pandemic. “If there’s loan money that we have, I can try and get it, but it depends if the village will sign for it and have the people pay it back through a bond assessment.”

Mayor Koons said the discussion about the road began in November of 2018, when Paw Paw residents raised concerns about the quality of their streets in the wake of large storms that caused the private drive to flood. South Russell’s street committee and Paw Paw’s Homeowners Association members began meeting regularly in April of this year, following a particularly bad storm in which more than 40 Paw Paw residents reported they had experienced flooding in their homes.

Since then, the private drive’s residents have rendezvoused with village officials on seven separate occasions to try to reach an agreement.

Mayor Koons said agreements between government and private entities are relatively uncommon.

“That’s a tough thing, to convince people that public money should help a private neighborhood,” he said. “That’s not a very good use of public funds.”

Rep. Grendell said she’s never heard of a public-private partnership like this in the context of local, village government and said that, while some funding is available, Geauga residents might not be able to access it.

“It would be an incredible breakthrough of people working together,” she added. “That would be outstanding, but they have to be protected. I know they’re trying to do everything they can to work on that. But it would be outstanding if they could work out something,” she said.

“We are harmed in Geauga County because of the median income,” she said, explaining why areas may not qualify for grants or loans.

Rep. Grendell and Mayor Koons both said they will continue to search out funding opportunities so that Paw Paw Lake Drive can someday be brought up to the standards of a public road and exist under the village’s supervision.

“You do have some frustration on every project,” he concluded. “The wheels of the village are sometimes rather slow.”

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