CHAGRIN FALLS — Save Grove Hill supporters were halfway through their impassioned comments before Village Council on Monday when a representative of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy stepped forward to offer the organization’s assistance.
“We have been following your efforts from a distance and believe this is a positive for Chagrin Falls,” Rich Cochran, WRLC president and CEO told the standing room crowd. Residents had gathered to ask council to stop the redevelopment of the acre-plus property at the top of North Main Street and West Summit Street.
The large center village property stretches down Main Street, known as Grove Hill, between Summit and Cottage streets. It features a rock wall built by the Depression-era Work Projects Administration, clusters of old growth trees and the historical Bancroft House.
While the conservancy concentrates on acquiring larger tracks of land, the Grove Hill site is what Mr. Cochran termed a “keystone property” for its landmark location and the home’s importance to village history.
Mr. Cochran said the conservancy envisions a public park on the Cottage Street side of the property and retention of the home.
Last summer, developer Robert Vitt purchased the property for $500,000 and has proposed to move or demolish the house with plans to build a multi-unit townhouse development there.
Uneasy neighbors and friends met and decided to form “Save Grove Hill,” a grass roots information and petition campaign with a social media presence to collect signatures.
In an email to the Chagrin Valley Times on Tuesday morning, Mr. Cochran wrote that the conservancy is hopeful of buying the entire site from Mr. Vitt and was to have contacted the developer that day to set up a meeting.
“Our hope is to buy the entire property, to split it in half with a line parallel to Cottage and Summit streets, to encumber the land and the structures with preservation restrictions, to sell about half an acre to someone who will agree to restore both historic structures, and to collaborate with Chagrin Falls village to create a new public park on the new half-acre lot fronting on Cottage and Main,” the WRLC spokesman explained.
Mr. Cochran added that while that is the conservancy’s vision for the property it is open to refinements. “We also want to be clear that we do not control the property and Mr. Vitt may not wish to sell it to us.”
If the acquisition goes forward, Mr. Cochran said that residents will play a major role in fundraising which will need to be done quickly.
“We are counting on the generosity of people who love Chagrin to realize this vision,” he said adding after attending the council meeting and hearing what Save Grove Hill supports had to say. “We are confident that people will invest in the preservation of this keystone property.”
He noted the nearly 2,000 signatures Save Grove Hill supporters obtained in less than two weeks was impressive.
“Clearly the public sentiment is present to make this happen. The Bancroft estate and Grove Hill is a cherished asset in Chagrin. Iconic and precious. It is our collective responsibility to preserve it now and forever.”
So far, the village Architectural Review Board has asked Mr. Vitt to rethink the plan and advised him the property was historical and therefore prohibited its removal or demolition of the house under village preservation rules and zoning.
The developer is scheduled to meet again with the architectural board this coming Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.
During this week’s meeting, Village Council members listened to residents’ comments but did not remark or take any action.
Mayor William Tomko, who had as a councilman in 1996, worked with Mr. Cochran and the WRLC in the village’s acquisition of land for what is now Whitesburg Nature Preserve.
The mayor offered “no comment” to a question regarding his role in Mr. Cochran’s unexpected appearance at Monday’s meeting.