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Akron considering two ways to conserve Theiss Woods, but development isn't off the table

map of land
City of Akron
Akron was considering a proposal to develop housing on the 45-acre property known as Theiss Woods. However, after calls to instead conserve the land, the city is considering options to conserve it.

Environmental advocates say Akron agreed to not develop a 45-acre plot of public land near Cuyahoga Valley National Park. However, the future of Theiss Woods is still unknown, and the city says development of the property is not off the table.

Akron was considering a proposal to develop housing on the Theiss Woods property, a plan that drew backlash from residents and spurred the creation of the environmental advocacy group Preserve the Valley. The city told the group last month that "development is off the table for this administration," Preserve the Valley's Jodie Grasgreen said.

“They haven’t decided actually what exactly they’re going to do with it," Grasgreen said.

However, Mayor Dan Horrigan's Chief Communications Officer Stephanie Marsh said that meeting with Preserve the Valley was to assure the group that the city isn't currently speaking with developers for this land and doesn't have a development plan.

In a written statement, she said that officials are looking at options to conserve the property, but some kind of development on the property is not off the table. No announcement about the property's future was made.

Emily Collins, strategic advisor to the mayor, was part of the meeting between city officials and Preserve the Valley. The city is looking at two ways to potentially conserve Theiss Woods, including keeping the land as an asset to the city or selling it to another entity to conserve it, Collins said. She said both of these options were outlined to Preserve the Valley in the meeting, and although members of the group asked for a commitment not to develop the property, she maintained no such commitment was offered. However, Collins said the door is open for the city and Preserve the Valley to continue discussing this property and other environmental issues.

If the city decides to sell the property to be conserved, one option could be turning the property into the next Summit Metro Park. The Western Reserve Land Conservancy submitted a proposal to the city to preserve the property and turn it into a park in 2021.

Even if Akron decides to conserve Theiss Woods, Grasgreen still worries about the future of land development in Akron.

“I guess I’m still cautiously optimistic," Grasgreen said.

She’s hopeful Preserve the Valley can work with Akron’s next mayoral administration to create a plan for land use that involves more than just development.

"It begs the issue that we need a bigger plan," Grasgreen said. "We need something holistic with lots of people at the table.”

The city's controversial decision to develop an area off of White Pond Drive into a housing and retail development has caused wariness, Grasgreen said.

"We just can't go willy-nilly and that justifying saving the one tract of land and sacrificing another is not how the environment, how the ecology, how the impact on humans and other living creatures works," Grasgreen said.

Although the city could not promise the next administration will also decide to conserve the land, Grasgreen said she's not worried about presumptive mayor Shammas Malik.

"He answered our environmental voter's guide saying he is 100% for conservation of Theiss Woods," Grasgreen said.

Corrected: June 6, 2023 at 2:20 PM EDT
June 6, 2023, 2:20 p.m.: This story has been updated, based on additional conversations with both the city and Preserve the Valley to further clarify where both sides stand on the future of Theiss Woods.

June 6, 2023, 10:19 a.m.: This story previously stated that development of the property was completely off the table. The city clarified its position that development is still an option.

June 5, 2023, 9:28 p.m.: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Preserve the Valley's Jodie Grasgreen.
Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.