The City of Toledo contacted 28 homeowners to see if they would be willing to sell their property to make room for an expansion of the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in East Toledo’s Birmingham neighborhood.
The city says it is looking for two separate groups of four contingent properties to make room for two new substations and staging areas for construction.
Wednesday during a committee of the whole meeting to discuss the proposed property acquisitions, about 20 Birmingham residents were present as Collins Park residents told city council’ members they feared the city will use eminent domain to obtain the properties needed.
In addition, some homeowners said they believed they believed the price offered was not fair and others said they had no intention of leaving a neighborhood they lived in their entire lives.
The $314 million expansion was mandated by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and has to be completed within five years.
Dave Welch, director of public utilities, said several homeowners have already agreed to sell, but the city has failed to find a string of four homes to make room for the construction project. Jamie Miller, a realty specialist with the city, said they were close to reaching agreements with other homeowners.
City council had authorized $700,000 for the purchase of the homes, but Councilman Shaun Enright, an East Toledo resident, led legislation to rescind the authorization, which was approved by an 8-4 vote. Mayor Mike Bell vetoed Enright’s legislation, but council can still overturn the veto.
“Beverly Hills of Birmingham”
Although one resident said he was willing to sell, six residents spoke against the taking of homes in one of East Toledo’s more affluent neighborhoods.
“Overall, there is a concern that this is one of the nicest parts of the neighborhood — the people there don’t want to move if they don’t have to. This, I think, is a truly strong neighborhood” said Father Frank Eckart of the Birmingham Development Corporation.
The homes are next to Collins Park Golf Course and one homeowner originally paid $105,500 for his property, although appraised values have dropped because of a decline in the real estate market. Miller said the city will pay closing and relocation costs, so there should be no out of pocket expenses for anyone willing to sell unless they purchase a more expensive home.
Some that were thinking about selling said they were looking at homes in places like Oregon and Findlay. One speaker said he was willing to sell and was already working with Miller to reach an agreement, but most wanted to stay.
Steve Nemecek, 724 Collins Park Avenue, said his family has lived at Collins Park since 1922. He called the neighborhood the “Beverly Hills of Birmingham.”
“Before the golf course and before the water works, we were there,” Nemecek said. “This street is a vital part of the neighborhood for people to walk. You take all the homes and you destroy this street and you are slowly going to take apart the neighborhood.
“All we want to know is, tell us, and let us become involved in this process and not be in the background. If we’re involved in the process, I think you can save the street. This street is vital to the neighborhood.”
Joseph Nemecek, also a Collins Park lifetime resident, says the potential sale of homes in his neighborhood is “scaring people.” He adds that even though the market indicates one price, it doesn’t include intrinsic value of their homes nor the amount of money they have put in to upgrade their properties.
Mary Ann Acevedo said she paid $35,000 to renovate her home and calling the area a “beautiful neighborhood.”
“I am fighting for my neighbors that have lived there — we look out for each other,” Acevedo said. “There is no crime in the street. If I knew a neighbor that is going on vacation, I’ll mow their lawn — it doesn’t hurt me. We’re proud of our neighborhood, we’re proud of our homes.”
Resident Harold Howe said, “I want you to know it’s very depressing — are you taking my house or are you not? It’s a big mind game with us. I’m where I want to be. I’m an east sider — I’m an ‘05er (43605 zip code). Please come up with a different plan. I think you can — I’ll put some faith in you to do that.”
Peter Ujvagi, speaking in council chambers as a resident for the first time since serving on council, presented four requests of city council on behalf of the residents —
The first request — no demolition of homes on York, Collins Park Drive and Consaul Street until an acceptable plan for the expansion of the water plant has been developed and agreed to.
Ujvagi quoted Miller’s May 13 letter to residents, which stated, “We have firmly decided that, once properties are purchased from willing sellers, we will demolish any structures and grade the properties.”
The second request is the establishment of an effective task force. Ujvagi referred to his May 1 letter to Welch, requesting “Establishment of a task force of the city — Birmingham neighborhood members who will work together to review and develop a plan that will have the least negative impact on our community.”
Ujvagi quoted Miller’s response, representing the Bell administration, dated May 13, which stated, “We believe a task force could be instrumental in helping to communicate information throughout the neighborhood so that everyone is hearing the same message as to when construction will begin and how materials will be delivered, etc.”
The task force idea was accepted by the city one other time — at a March 25 public meeting, but none has been formed yet. Another public meeting is scheduled for July 11.
Thirdly, Ujvagi requested the city take responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of any homes purchased or work with an appropriate organization to maintain and manage the homes. He suggested having Neighborhood Works manage the homes.
Last, he said if the city insists on continuing to purchase homes, a fair price be offered to residents; utilize an “option to buy” as a mechanism to purchase property in the future, if needed; salvage rights not be granted on any homes purchased by the city; and renew a commitment that eminent domain will not be used.