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Northeast Ohio’s voters show support for local park, outdoor issues

Signs line a portion of the Portage Park District's Portage Hike and Bike Trail.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Signs line a portion of the Portage Park District's Portage Hike and Bike Trail.

Northeast Ohio voters showed support for environmental levies in the region to promote access to and conservation of the outdoors.

Levies passed in support of funding the Portage Park District and Lorain County Metro Parks, along with a levy in Mentor-on-the-Lake for a revetment project to prevent further lake-front erosion at Overlook Beach Park.

Additionally, Pepper Pike residents voted in favor of a sidewalk project along South Woodland Road, Lander Road and Shaker Boulevard.

Portage County Issue 31

Issue 31 in Portage Countypassed, with nearly 58% of voters approving a 1 mill replacement levy for the Portage Park District.

The levy is expected to generate more than $4.5 million per year to fund the district’s continued maintenance, expansion and conservation efforts, Executive Director Christine Craycroft said.

“We protect our water quality and scenic landscapes and provide recreational opportunities. All of that is so important for quality of life, and I know that that's a concern for folks,” Craycroft said. “We want to have a vibrant community, we want to keep our kids here instead of fleeing after they graduate from college, so it all works together.”

The levy will replace the park district’s current .5 mill levy, passed in 2014. The replacement levy does mean an increase in cost for property owners. Under the former levy, they pay about $13 per year per $100,000 of assessed value. That figure nearly doubles to $35 per year under the levy passed Tuesday.

Portage Park District said it intends to use the funding to support the developments and expansions of Kent Bog State Nature Preserve in Brimfield, Headwaters Trail and a 550-acre property in Shalersville Township, Craycroft said.

Lorain County Issue 23

Another replacement levy passed in Lorain County Tuesday in favor of funding for the Lorain County Metro Parks.

Levies account for nearly 70% of Lorain County Metro Park’s budget, according to Executive Director Jim Ziemnik. The metro park’s current levy passed in 2014.

Both levies are 1.6 mill levies, but the replacement levy passed Tuesday will include updated property evaluations county-wide.

“As it turned out, we couldn't even do a renewal (levy) this year anyway, so we're doing it as a replacement,” Ziemnik said. “We’ll generate a few extra dollars that will allow us to operate for the next ten years.”

Costs for homeowners will increase under the replacement levy, from $36 annually per $100,000 of assessed property value to $56 annually.

The funding from the current levy supported staffing for the park system and projects at Cascade Park in Elyria, Castle Reservation in Vermillion and Royal Oaks Golf Corse in Grafton, among others.

If the levy had failed, the park system would have faced park closures and shortened hours, ultimately putting the park system at risk,” Ziemnik said.

Lake County Issue 5

Mentor-on-the-Lake’s Issue 5 also passed, which approved funding for Lake County’s Overlook Beach Park.

Lake Erie’s changing water levels have caused significant erosion and land loss at the lakefront park, limiting public access, Mentor-on-the-Lake Mayor David Eva said.

“We've lost several... yards of land there,” Eva said. “Several years ago, we were able to put a deck and stairs with access to the beach, and that was through a grant at the time. Since then, with the land loss and the loss of beach, we've had to pull back the stairs and the deck and really caution our residents and whoever went to the park that it was not safe to be climbing down there.”

The approved levy will fund a revetment project for the park to secure the land that includes an armor stone wall along the bluff.

The annual cost for property owners under the levy is about $26 annually per 100,000 property valuation. That will remain constant throughout the 15-year period.

The city will also be looking for additional outside funding to decrease homeowner contributions overall, Eva said.

“Let's say the estimate comes in at a different number, a lower number,” Eva said. “Once this is paid for, we can cut this off before the 15-year period. So, we ... will not continue to collect this from our residents if this is paid off.”

Cuyahoga County Issue 65

Pepper Pike voters voted in favor of Issue 65, supporting the addition of five-foot wide recreation trails, or sidewalks, along the rights-of-way of Shaker Boulevard, South Woodland Road and Lander Road.

The sidewalks are part of the city’s larger walkability plan that includes a 10-foot-wide multi-purpose trail in the center median strip of Gates Mills Boulevard between City Hall and the Fairmont Circle and Lander Road intersection, according to a document mailed to residents.

“These trails … would not only improve walkability along the major thoroughfares of the city,” Mayor Richard Bain said, “but they would also provide a connection to that large recreational trail at Gates Mills.”

Residents will not be responsible for maintaining the sidewalks or covering the cost of maintenance, Bain said.

“What will be avoided is any maintenance or liability issues on the part of the residents in front of whose homes this would pass in public right-of-way,” he said. “The city will be installing these at city expense [and there] will not be an assessment or further levy for the cost of the increase on these trails.”

Prior to the election, the city held discussion sessions where residents on either side of the issue expressed concerns. Some talked about concerns over a lack of walkability in Pepper Pike and unsafe conditions presented by walking in the road.

Most streets have limited traffic that make walking in the roadway a safe option for residents, Bain said. But Shaker Boulevard, South Woodland Road and Lander Road experience higher traffic volumes.

“There's upwards of 13,000 plus cars that go up and down Lander Road every day. It's simply not a safe walking environment,” he said. “These sidewalks are going to provide that sort of access for people to get along these major thoroughfares safely.”

Bain said opposition to the issue was a "significant minority" in Pepper Pike. Some residents were concerned about the environmental impacts of removing trees and grass for the concrete path, along with the potential lack of privacy presented by having walking paths in front of their homes, according to a mailed information packet.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.