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Residents fight Geauga over street takeover
Residents fight Geauga over street takeover
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Munn Road residents in Newbury Township said they have one question for township and county officials.
"What has changed in 10 years?" resident David Vanderwist asked.
The answer to that question, according to Mr. Vanderwist, may change the very nature of the neighborhood that he has called home for the past 40 years.
Newbury Township Trustees are considering a request by Geauga County Engineer Robert Phillips to turn control of the road, from Kinsman Road (Route 87) to Bell Street, over to the county. Trustees plan to hold a meeting at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7 with the engineer to discuss the issue.
Trustee David Snively said they are still deciding on the meeting place. Once officials get an idea of how many people will attend, they will set the meeting place for Newbury Town Hall or the larger Newbury School cafeteria.
Ten years ago, township officials looked at the same idea. At that time, officials decided against turning control over to the county.
"We are committed to keeping the rural ambiance of our community," trustees wrote. "The negative impact of widening the berm, clearing an additional 10 feet on the right of way and the prospect of increased traffic due to these changes would destroy the character of these neighborhoods and scenic streets."
Jerry Hudak, one of Mr. Vanderwist's neighbors, said the majority of residents now living on the street agree with that assessment 10 years ago. The area, which drew some of the township's first settlers, will lose the ambience that has drawn generations of families to stay in the area, he said. Lined with trees, some 150 or more years old, and century homes' residents of the area believe their neighborhood is special, he said.
Mr. Hudak said about 90 percent of the residents in the 54 homes along that stretch of Munn Road have signed a petition opposing the switch.
Jeff Brinkerhoff, another Munn Road resident, said all residents of the township should take notice of what is happening now, because they could be the next neighborhood to lose their country charm. All residents should attend the Sept. 7 meeting to show support for Munn Road residents, he said. "It's an issue that affects the whole township, rather than just this road."
Mr. Snively said the township has been discussing the issue over the past four trustees meetings. However, he said, some questions went unanswered, because a county representative was not in attendance. He said Mr. Phillips should allow for a meaningful and informative exchange.
Mr. Snively said he has looked at the issue from both sides. He said he understands the emotional attachment residents hold to the country atmosphere the road provides.
However, he said, there are financial considerations that also play into the issue. Mr. Snively said township officials must weigh the $500,000 estimate that it will cost to repave that stretch of road, and that figure represents the entire annual road budget.
He said Newbury, like many communities, is looking at the loss of revenue through state cuts and reductions in property taxes collections. "It's getting worse, not better," Mr. Snively said.
If residents do not believe finances are an issue, Mr. Snively said, the township does have the option of assessing those living there for the cost of repaving the road.
He said there also are safety issues that must be examined. He said Mr. Phillips is expected to provide the latest traffic accident reports for the road. He said if statistics show the road has grown more dangerous over the past 10 years, it will be another factor he will have to weigh in his decision, he said. "If it is deemed unsafe, who am I to overrule that?"
Mr. Brinkerhoff said he has looked at traffic statistics over a three-year period. During that time, he said, there have been 22 accidents, but 72 percent of them occurred at Munn Road's intersections with Bell and Music streets and Kinsman Road. That leaves only two accidents per year along the remainder of the roadway, he said, which shows the road is not any less safe than other roads in the county.
Mr. Brinkerhoff said, if township officials care about safety they can provide police to reduce the speeding that occurs there. Or they could lower the weight limit for trucks, which regularly use the street as a cut-through, and lower the speed limit, he said. "They say safety is an issue," he said. "That's baloney."
Mr. Vanderwist said allowing the county to take ownership would likely impact property values in the area. Any road project by the county would likely widen the road, which has a 40-foot right of way, he said. "I'm going to lose 10 feet of property. If they don't think that will affect property values, they're nuts."
He said some of the trees on his property were planted in 1808, and two stone pillars flanking his driveway entrance are at least 100 years old. He said he could plant new trees, but is unlikely to live long enough to see them grow to 50 feet tall.
Mr. Snively said trustees will only make a recommendation to the Geauga County Commissioners, who have the ultimate say on the issue. He said the commissioners have indicated, however, that they will give great weight to trustees' decision in the matter.
Mr. Snively said he hopes that the board will arrive at a decision that allows the majority of residents to say they "got it right."
He said trustees heard similar fears from residents along Pekin and Bass Lake roads when road projects were done in recent years. However, he said, the residents' concerns were eased after the projects were complete. "Nature has a way to figure out what to do when a tree is gone," he said.
Mr. Snively said, while trustees do listen to the residents affected by their decisions, they have an obligation to represent all residents of the township.
He said if trustees stopped every road improvement project objected to by residents living there, Newbury would have nothing but dirt roads.
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