Council votes on rezoning former high school site
By Matt Echelberry
Galion City Council’s March 12 session was the second reading for Ord. 2013–17, rezoning the vacant property on West Church Street to Residential Multiple Family. If the legislation passed, a project proposal from The NOAH Project and Showe Management Company would be one step closer in receiving state funding to construct a senior housing facility at the site.
City Manager Gene Toy clarified that the legislation only facilitates the proposed Eden Place project. If the zoning is changed but the project does not happen, zoning would not revert back.
Council member Cathy George motioned to approve the legislation, with a second by Council member Tom Fellner. Council member Roberta Wade commented that she was supportive of the project and said Council’s approval of rezoning the property would give the potential project an opportunity to move forward.
Chuck Swick, a neighbor of the property, was against the rezoning. He felt the project would not blend in with the neighborhood and could possibly lower property values. Swick went on to say neighbors were not provided the proper opportunities to give input. He recently knocked on doors at homes adjacent to the property to speak with other people in the area. Out of 36 people spoken to, 32 signed a makeshift petition objecting to the rezoning.
“These people are overwhelmingly against this…It is not the project we disagree with, but the location they have chosen,” Swick emphasized. He argued that there are other locations in Galion that already have the appropriate zoning, such as the lot across from Drug Mart or undeveloped land behind Burger King.
Bob Cerar, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, was present that evening. He clarified the Commission’s process in contacting neighbors: All property owners within 200 feet of the site were mailed letters, 32 in total. The Commission held three meetings, where community members could give input. He added that many people were in favor of the project.
“We took the neighborhood very much into account when we made this decision. It’s not been something we’ve pushed through,” Cerar concluded. “We still think this is a good project for Galion.” After the Commission gave approval for the rezoning, legislation was presented at the Feb. 26 City Council meeting. The first reading passed after much discussion.
During the March 12 meeting, Swick maintained that he received a different response from the neighbors. He criticized the groups proposing the project for not going door to door and getting better community input.
Cerar asked him how many of the people who signed the petition were at the meeting that night. No audience members gave an indication.
Shirley Clark, another citizen, was concerned with the contaminants that are allegedly still in the ground at the site. “If you’re gonna put elderly people up there, you better consider what you might be digging up,” she warned.
Soil contamination was a major discussion topic during the previous Council meeting as well. In 2005, Galion City Schools commissioned a full environmental study of the site, which was conducted by CTL Engineering. The study indicated levels of arsenic in the soil (see bottom of page for details).
At that point in the March 12 meeting, Galion Board of Education President Dennis Long read excerpts from the 2005 Phase 2 study. He read that arsenic is a “normally occurring element in the area.” According to Long, the recent concerns about the property are due to “a lot of partial information going out.” He encouraged skeptics to look at the full report.
“In looking at the entire report, their recommendation is that no further environmental assessment is required or recommended,” Long stated. He added that in a recent email received from CTL Engineering, the experts stated they have no concerns with that property and said it would be suitable for senior housing.
In January of this year, Showe Management commissioned a new environmental study, with only a Phase 1 component. Environmental Audit Associates conducted it, and the conclusion was “no further evaluation or remediation is necessary.”
Scott Hunley from Showe Management was also present for the meeting. “After we heard the concerns at the last Council meeting, we spoke to CTL and the environmental engineer that did the new Phase 1 study,” he began. They discussed the arsenic levels, and both consultants confirmed that northern Ohio commonly has high arsenic levels, mostly due to farming.
Hunley said the EPA-recommended methods for dealing with arsenic is to have sod on top of the soil, or pavement or a building on the property. The only health risk is if the soil becomes airborne, but there would need to be a considerable amount in order to be harmful.
He emphasized that certain procedures would be used during construction to limit dust. “We would not want to proceed with any sort of development where you have environmental factors that cause concern.”
“I just don’t feel right about this thing,” Council member Steve Rowan stated. “I’d feel better if the soil was retested.”
Hunley responded that a new Phase 2 study would not tell anything more than what is already known.
Citizen Matt Strickler was the final person to speak during the discussion. He asked Council to listen to the constituents, saying, “They’re the ones who have to look at it every day. If they don’t want this in their neighborhood, I don’t think it should be in their neighborhood.”
When the legislation finally came to a vote, it was approved 4–1, with Rowan abstaining. (Bodkins and Flannery were both absent due to health reasons.) It was questionable whether or not an abstention was permitted.
Later in the meeting, City Law Director Reese Mills advised, “A member should abstain from voting only in the event of a possible conflict of interest,” namely personal or financial. Mills added that the intent is to prevent Council members from abstaining when there is a highly contested issue.
However, Rowan’s abstention had no effect on the outcome of the vote. The rezoning was approved and the project application has been submitted to the state, awaiting funding approval.
In the Phase 2 environmental study from 2005, eight soil borings were taken for lab analysis. Results indicated that heavy metals like cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury were “below detection limits.” Arsenic concentrations in all but one sample were above Ohio EPA standards.
Nonetheless, the conclusion of the report reads: “It is CTL Engineering’s technical opinion that no further environmental assessment is required and/or recommended for this property.”