CHAGRIN FALLS — There are still 600,000 hurdles to clear before a deal to purchase the 1-acre Bancroft property on Grove Hill becomes a done deal.
They represent the $600,000 purchase price mutually agreed upon by the property owner and developer Robert Vitt and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy. The group has a little more than a month to raise the funds before May 9 when the agreement expires.
How does that happen during a pandemic and an uncertain economic future?
Reached Monday via email, Mr. Vitt said, “We recognize that due to the current coronavirus situation, flexibility will be required to complete the transaction.”
Then there is faith and optimism, said Rich Cochran, president and CEO of the conservancy.
“President John Kennedy said, ‘If not us, who? If not now, when?’ This is how we feel about this deal (and) this needs to happen now or it will never happen. The people who care about Chagrin will choose to make this happen.”
Chagrin Falls Mayor William Tomko announced last week that the land conservancy entered into a purchase agreement to acquire the Bancroft house built in 1878.
“It is the land conservancy’s intention to transfer the lower portion of the lot to the village for the creation of a park,” the mayor said, “while selling the house and upper portion to a buyer who will conserve the Bancroft home.”
The land transferred to the village will be subject to legal restrictions to assure that it is not developed, the mayor explained. The house also will be subjected to deed restrictions to encourage preservation with the village and conservancy having control over exterior changes, he said.
Already an ally to the cause is a group of West Summit Street neighbors who raised awareness through a Save Grove Hill movement that saw a veritable forest of black and yellow signs pop up overnight in front yards throughout the Village of Chagrin Falls.
It also resulted in thousands of petition signatures against Mr. Vitt’s proposal to raze the historical Bancroft house to make room for a multi-building townhome development.
“That group is inspired and extremely excited and have pledged to help us raise funds,” Mr. Cochran said of residents.
Darby and Bryan Schwartz, spokespersons for Save Grove Hill, said the group is thankful to the greater Chagrin Falls community for their support and the tireless effort of the conservancy to get so close to saving this keystone historical property and preserving the character of Chagrin for generations.
Mr. Cochran said although the fundraising situation is not optimum, “we also know the community is passionate about this project and we are counting on people to be generous.
“More than 2,000 people signed a petition to Save Grove Hill so, as an example, if every one of them would give us $25 per month for 12 months that would be $300 per family and would cover the entire $600,000 that we have to raise,” Mr. Cochran said.
“We also know that a number of people will make major gifts,” he said acknowledging that not all who signed the petitions have the ability to make a donation. “We are working with a very generous donor and hope to have some good news very soon.”
The conservancy has funds for a bridge loan to make up for any gap in fundraising, he added, which would not need to be paid back until June of 2021.
Mr. Cochran said it took five or six meetings to hammer out terms of the $600,000 purchase price. Mr. Vitt bought the property last year for $550,000.
“Mr. Vitt is a formidable counterparty but always cordial, always responsive and always willing to search for a solution. And in the end, Mr. Vitt and his family were willing to contribute some of the market value to the overall deal which allowed us to bridge the gap,” Mr. Cochran said.
“We tried to analyze our offer versus what Mr. Vitt could make if he developed the land,” Mr. Cochran said. The land already was zoned for up to five houses without a variance, “so he held all the cards.”
The two sides came together after structuring the deal that will give Mr. Vitt a charitable gift deduction as part of the overall consideration.
“This project will protect the charm and enhance the value of Chagrin overall, which in the end, is far more valuable than a few new homes,” Mr. Cochran said.
To donate to Western Reserve Land Conservancy and the Grove Hill project, visit www.wrlandconservancy.org.
The Land Conservancy, upon request, will return all gifts restricted to Grove Hill if the purchase does not go through, Mr. Cochran said.