Chagrin Valley Times
by Joan Demirjian
May 30, 2019
BAINBRIDGE — A picnic shelter being built at the Frohring Meadows is drawing the concern of neighbors on Savage Road where the park is located.
The Geauga Park District is building the new feature off the entrance driveway. It includes restrooms and fire pits in addition to the picnic areas. An enclosed lodge where groups and organizations meet has already been a part of the park and is toward the back of the parkland.
Savage Road resident Norm Schultz said neighbors are questioning the location of the new picnic shelter. He said it will be “an eyesore in our front yards. Why did they put it out front? Why didn’t they put it at the back of the park?” The park district should have let people know about it, he added.
The late philanthropist Paul Frohring donated the land surrounding his farm house in 1996 for a park that includes 298 acres with a prairie making up 100 acres of that land.
Bainbridge resident Stan Rolf said the plan doesn’t honor “the intent of the zoning or Mr. Frohring’s wishes. He always wanted it left open,” he said of the former farmland.
Geauga Park District Executive Director John Oros said Frohring Meadows is the most visited park of the district’s 25 parks. Visitors use the existing lodge as well as the trails for walking and jogging, he said.
“We thought an open-air seating area would be welcomed. We feel a new picnic shelter is needed. It’s a suitable distance from the roadway,” Mr. Oros added.
Bainbridge Zoning Inspector Karen Endres said she has been receiving calls from the residents in the area who are objecting to the plan for the picnic area.
She noted that Frohring Meadows is a county park and not in the jurisdiction of Bainbridge Township Trustees.
The Geauga Park District has maintained its status as a political subdivision and does not believe it has to seek a township zoning permit, she said. If the plan for the picnic shelter had gone through the township zoning procedures, as do the libraries and schools, the district would have applied for a permit, she explained.
“I would have found it a conditional use in the park and they would need approval from the township Board of Zoning Appeals after a public hearing,” Mrs. Endres said. A conditional use permit is needed to construct a shelter, restrooms, patios, pavilions and sheds in an area zoned for passive parks, as is Frohring Meadows, Mrs. Endres said.
There must be a minimum set back of 100 feet from residentially zoned property, according to township stipulations. In this case, it appears the proposed picnic area is more than 100 feet from a residential lot, she said.
“We have been advised that the county park district as a government entity is not required to go to the township for zoning permits or approval. They can essentially do what they wish regardless of township zoning perimeters,” Mrs. Endres said. The park district has declined to take out permits so the township has no say over the current project, she said.
The Geauga Park District should have gone through the process with a public hearing, she said. “It would have been an opportunity for the residents to voice their concerns.”
Geauga Park District commissioners do not permit citizens to make public comments during meetings.
Plans call for a parking area and connecting trail. There will be two pavilions adjacent to each other with each 22-by-24 feet in size. Fire pits are 18-by-18 feet. There will be a stone seating area and concrete walks.
Mrs. Endres said she encourages the neighbors to try to work directly with the county park commission and park district director.
She said she understands the concerns about the location of the new picnic shelter. The existing park lodge is set back in the park with a buffer. That apparently is what residents want to see with the new additions, she said.
Resident Richard Wise said it is about the picnic shelter’s location. If it was in the back, no one would say anything, he said.
Instead the county park district located it up the parkway, “in front of our house,” he said. “They defy zoning.” The original shelter can’t be seen from the road. This is less than a fourth of a mile from the road,” Mr. Wise said.
“It wouldn’t bother anyone if it was placed in the back by the other building,” he said. “It’s ruining our property values.”
He also noted that the park district used a pickup truck to spray weed killer on the prairie area which blew over to his house. “I don’t call that being a good neighbor. They are doing whatever they want. No one told us they were putting buildings in front of our homes.”
Steve Smith, who owns a house on Savage Road across from the park, questioned why the shelter is being built so close to the road. “They want us to do as we are told, but they don’t live by the same rules,” Mr. Smith said. “They have pit toilets, but we can’t,” he said. “These government officials need to follow the same laws and guidelines we do.
“I agree it should be put back on the park property,” Mr. Smith said. Having grown up in the home his parents built on Savage Road, he said he remembers Mr. Frohring wanted to prevent the land from being developed.
The Frohring family has been supportive of the park district, Mr. Oros said, and continues to make donations to the Foundation for Geauga Parks.
Mr. Oros said that the natural resource management staff is planting grasses and native flowers at the park, which includes wetlands that are home to visiting shore birds unique to the area.