Geauga Park District rejects land donation

Chagrin Valley Times

by Joan Demirjian

September 12, 2019

The Geauga Park District Board of Commissioners on Tuesday rejected the donation of Munson Township property spanning about a half-acre from owners Phillip and Joyce Ungar, citing poor quality and potential costs for their reasoning.

Executive Director John Oros said the owners decided to donate the property near Beachside and Lake roads because it is the only property they own in the area. He said the property has been in the family’s possession “for a long time” and that the couple does not live in the area.

Commissioner Jackie Dottore offered that the owners may have decided to donate the property because most of it is swamp forest and said that it is probably not sellable because of this.

Mr. Oros suggested rejecting the property during last month’s regular meeting, when the donation was first presented, because of its small size and location, as well as the need for spraying potential invasive species and long-term conservation costs. He, however, recognized that the donation was a “very generous” offer from the owners.

Commissioner Andrej Lah had recommended revisiting the donation after feedback from Park Biologist Paul Pira.

Mr. Pira of Geauga Park District’s Planning and Natural Resource Management Department assessed the property during a site visit on Aug. 16 and provided the park board with an evaluation of the property.

In his evaluation, Mr. Pira noted that the property is “almost entirely swamp forest habitat.” Wetlands were also the dominant natural resource, according to the evaluation, with the majority of the wetlands being an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency standard “Category 2,” which is a wetland that is degraded, but restorable, according to the Ohio EPA.

The evaluation states that wetlands are important for “often harboring important breeding pools for sensitive woodland amphibians and provide habitats for uncommon birds.” It also states that the current wetland “mitigates the surrounding neighborhood’s stormwater run-off and helps protect Bass Lake’s water quality.”

The parcel of land is directly contiguous with Bass Lake Preserve, according to Mr. Pira’s evaluation, with the properties connecting at their corners; however, the property’s Natural Quality Evaluation Index, which was created by previous Geauga Park District Natural Resources Management staff, scored a 33 out of a scale of zero to 100 and thus falls in the “poor/fair” category of the index.

The department recommended not purchasing the property – which the owners were donating, not selling – due to the low NQEI score, but noted that the donation “may warrant consideration” because the parcel of land’s help in preserving the lake’s water quality.

“This property’s sensitive wetlands serve as important water quality buffers and help to mitigate anthropogenic impacts on the downstream aquatic ecosystems found within Bass Lake Preserve’s watershed and eventually the Chagrin River,” the evaluation states.

Mr. Lah said the park district would reject the donation “based upon the fact that report shows that it’s really not high quality for the park. The park is interested in preserving high quality resources.” He added that park district is interested in properties that have “provided some value to [the park district] to maintain it” and noted that the connection to Bass Lake Preserve is only at the tip of the properties’ corners and that conservation efforts could become a cost to taxpayers.

Mr. Oros confirmed that the property would become a cost to the park district “from the standpoint of monitoring property boundaries.” He added that controlled herbicides for handling any potential invasive species would be a cost to county taxpayers.

Mrs. Dottore noted that “there are definitely some qualities,” pointing out the property’s high points in categories of riparian conditions or soils under the total NQEI score, but the district has to look at properties as a whole when considering accepting them.

Protect Geauga Parks activist Dave Partington said he disagreed with the board’s decision to reject the property after the meeting. He said that while the costs could be considered a negative to some people, he believes the costs would not be high for managing it.

“What is the harm in accepting a piece of property?” he asked, adding that managing 0.57 acres of invasive species is not a “big deal.”

“In other words, you need one of your naturalists to go in with a spray can and spray the garlic mustard once a year for an hour – hour and a half,” he said of the labor and cost requirements. “We’re not talking big bucks here.”

Mr. Partington added that with the property’s location between two neighboring houses, park patrol would not be necessary for prevention of trespassing or dumping because any neighboring residents could call the police.

“To me, to reject that was – it was an absurd thing to do,” he said.

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