Proposed new elementary school in Concord – what is the problem?

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We attended Concord’s Trustee meeting last night – you can see the entire 2:33 hours meeting on-line at the Concord website.  Here is the website:

(Update: for some reason the video of last night’s meeting has been taken down for now)

https://concordtwp.viebit.com/

The News-Herald wrote an article from the Riverside School’s position.  I will try to get some statements from the Trustees, but since there is a potential lawsuit involved they will be reluctant to say much.  Stay tuned for more on this issue.

The following is a statement issued Oct. 12 by Riverside Schools:

The Riverside School Board voted Oct. 3 at a special meeting to file an appeal in Lake County Common Pleas Court regarding the Concord Township Board of Zoning Appeal’s decision to deny a conditional use permit for the new elementary school planned on Route 608.

The School District did its due diligence before — and after — purchasing the land to comply with zoning guidelines to build a new elementary school. The property is already zoned R-4 Residential, which allows for the construction of a school building. Furthermore, in August 2016 and February of 2017, Riverside School District Superintendent James Kalis sent e-mails to Concord Township yielding to the Township Trustees’ direction, as the district did not want to be in a position where the property was purchased, only to find later that the district could not get approval by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Concord Township responded that the district must adhere to conditional use permit requirements under Section 13.10, which the district had done or is in the process of doing. The district also met with Concord Township officials — as well as county officials — on April 3 at a public meeting and there were no concerns expressed over building a new elementary school on the property.

On Sept. 13, the Concord Township Board of Zoning Appeals denied the district’s conditional use permit. In addition, the township sent a letter stating they advised the district not to purchase the land.

“Frankly, Concord Township’s Board of Zoning Appeals’ decision came as a surprise to all of us,” Kalis said. “We were led to believe we were following all the appropriate guidelines and had discussions with the township on many occasions before purchasing the land. There had been no objections until recently. Furthermore, the board and administrators were led to believe that we had to own the property first in order to apply for a conditional use permit.”

Concord Township does not allow an appeals process for zoning decisions through the township. Litigation is the district’s only option.

“Our board did not want to go that route, we wanted to work together,” Kalis said. “We hope for a resolution and we want to build on the proposed site while being mindful of the neighbors near the proposed property.

“We don’t want to be an adversary to the residents of that location. Let us build the proposed elementary school and serve the children of this district. There is a reason we picked Concord Township. It’s beautiful and it’s a great township. We want to build a school and service children there.”

The district held dozens of public community meetings prior to the bond levy in 2016. On Feb. 26, 2016, and March 7, 2016, Superintendent Kalis sent an e-mail to all elected officials within the district, including Concord Township trustees, and administrators inviting them to a meeting to discuss the district’s facilities plan. No one from Concord Township responded to the e-mail or attended any of these meetings. Representatives from Painesville and Leroy townships responded and attended some of these meetings.

It should also be noted that the bond levy passed in seven out of the nine precincts in Concord Township.

Prior to the district purchasing the land on Route 608, dozens of other locations in Concord Township and Leroy Township were considered. The owners of said locations were either not interested in selling or the property was costly. Several other locations underwent various testing, but those results were not as favorable as the current proposed location.

The proposed location is about 14 acres, relatively flat and was less expensive than other properties considered. Water is available and there was very little wetland. The owner was willing to sell at a reasonable price and it’s in the southeast portion of the district, where a school was needed.

The district conducted a wetland delineation on the property in December 2016, an environmental site assessment in January 2017, a preliminary geotechnical subsurface exploration in January 2017, a wastewater treatment consultation in February 2017 and a traffic impact analysis in August 2017. In addition, the district conducted a final geotechnical subsurface investigation and have been in contact with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Department of Transportation, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

“We needed a location in the southeast portion of our district to serve our students from Concord and Leroy townships and this location fulfills that need,” Kalis said.

The district is hoping to come to a quick resolution regarding this issue.

“We cannot delay this project. Construction costs can increase significantly every year, according to our bond counsel. The longer this project is delayed, the more it will cost to construct the building.”

Update: 10/21/17

Here is the Riverside School Board’s side of the story: (taken from their website)

Statement regarding Concord Site

The Riverside Local School District Board of Education voted Tuesday, October 3 at a Special Meeting to file an appeal in the Lake County Court of Common Pleas regarding the Concord Township Board of Zoning Appeal’s decision to deny a conditional use permit for the new elementary school planned on State Route 608.

The School District did its due diligence before – and after – purchasing the land to comply with zoning guidelines to build a new elementary school. The property is already zoned R-4 Residential, which allows for the construction of a school building. Furthermore, In August 2016 and February of 2017, Riverside Local School District’s Superintendent James Kalis sent e-mails to Concord Township yielding to the Township Trustees direction as the District did not want to be in a position where the property was purchased only to find later that the District could not get approval by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Concord Township responded that the District must adhere to conditional use permit requirements under section 13.10, which the District had done or is in the process of doing. The District also met with Concord Township officials – as well as county officials – on April 3 at a public meeting and there were no concerns expressed over building a new elementary school on the property.

On September 13, the Concord Township Board of Zoning Appeals denied the District’s conditional use permit. In addition, the township sent a letter stating they advised the District not to purchase the land.

“Frankly, Concord Township’s Board of Zoning Appeals’ decision came as a surprise to all of us,” Kalis said. “We were led to believe we were following all the appropriate guidelines and had discussions with the Township on many occasions before purchasing the land. There had been no objections until recently. Furthermore, the Board and administrators were led to believe that we had to own the property first in order to apply for a conditional use permit.”

Concord Township does not allow an appeals process for zoning decisions through the township. Litigation is the District’s only option.

“Our Board did not want to go that route, we wanted to work together,” Kalis said. “We hope for a resolution and we want to build on the proposed site while being mindful of the neighbors near the proposed property.

“We don’t want to be an adversary to the residents of that location. Let us build the proposed elementary school and serve the children of this District. There is a reason we picked Concord Township. It’s beautiful and it’s a great township. We want to build a school and service children there.”

The District held dozens of public community meetings prior to the Bond Levy in 2016. On Feb 26, 2016 and March 7, 2016 Superintendent Kalis sent an e-mail to all elected officials within the District including Concord Township Trustees and administrators inviting them to a meeting to discuss the District’s Facilities Plan. No one from Concord Township responded to the e-mail or attended any of these meetings. Representatives from Painesville and Leroy Townships responded and attended some of these meetings.

It should also be noted that the Bond Levy passed in seven out of the nine precincts in Concord Township.

Prior to the District purchasing the land on State Route 608, dozens of other locations in Concord Township and Leroy Township were considered. The owners of said locations were either not interested in selling or the property was costly. Several other locations underwent various testing, however those results were not as favorable as the current proposed location.

The proposed location is approximately 14 acres, relatively flat and was less expensive than other properties considered. Water is available and there was very little wetland. The owner was willing to sell at a reasonable price and it’s in the southeast portion of the District, where a school was needed.

The District conducted a wetland delineation on the property in December of 2016, an environmental site assessment in January of 2017, a preliminary geotechnical subsurface exploration in January of 2017, a waste water treatment consultation in February of 2017 and a traffic impact analysis in August of 2017. In addition, the District conducted a final geotechnical subsurface investigation and have been in contact with the Ohio EPA, ODOT and US Fish and Wildlife.

“We needed a location in the Southeast portion of our District to serve our students from Concord and Leroy Townships and this location fulfills that need,” Kalis said.

The District is hoping to come to a quick resolution regarding this issue.

“We cannot delay this project. Construction costs can increase significantly every year, according to our Bond Counsel. The longer this project is delayed, the more it will cost to construct the building.”

If you want to see their PowerPoint presentation here is the link:

http://filecabinet5.eschoolview.com/E5095A79-8FEF-4B49-B2E7-CB76014BAA4B/Revised1019Concord.pdf

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My opinion – something is not adding up (2 + 2 = 5) in this whole situation.  I would like to see the letter that the Township gave to the School Board telling them not to buy the land.  Either there is a letter or not.  I was wondering how many taxpayer dollars the School Board has invested to date on that property.

Also, if there is no appeal process after a Zoning Board ruling other than spending taxpayer money on lawyers, then we need to fix our Zoning laws.  In addition, I think the Zoning Board owed the School Board and explanation of where they were deficient in complying with the Zoning laws.  To not give a reason makes the Zoning Board seem capricious in their actions.

The School Board mentions about having public meetings on their future facility plans.  As a group that attends many, many meetings in Lake County, we did not see any public notifications about the meetings.  Perhaps they were only for public officials.

I have taken the time to review the PowerPoint presentation by the School Board.  I believe that they have presented a very strong argument for their side. James Kalis, Riverside Superintendent, sent an email to the Concord Trustees  on 2/15/17 giving them amply notice before the land was purchased asking for guidance on the whole process.  The Trustees at that time did not mention that the decision making on the conditional use permit is the sole responsibility of the Zoning Board.  For the Trustees now to state that the Zoning Board is an autonomous group and it is out of the Trustee’s hands seems a bit disingenuous.

It seems that the Concord Trustees have dug a deep hole for themselves, and the taxpayers may have to pay legal expenses.

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