$36M sewer could revive South Amherst, township quarry plans

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JASON HAWK
EDITOR

A $36 million sewer line could finally move plans forward for development of the former Cleveland Quarries.

South Amherst Mayor David Leshinski was sworn in last Tuesday for a second term, with State Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, doing the honors.

After finishing the oath of office, Leshinski dove right away into a discussion of what will likely be his biggest thrust this year.

Negotiations are underway between South Amherst, Amherst Township and the Firelands Board of Education for creation of a Tax Increment Financing district.

It would pave the way for some 90 luxury homes, priced at $1 million or more each, to be built on the old sandstone quarry property north of State Route 113.

They’re being pitched as summer vacation houses and second homes for the super-wealthy.

Plans also call for a hotel and spa to be built in Amherst Township.

“If we go back in history, it was going to be a resort. Well, it’s not going to be a resort anymore,” Leshinski said.

In 2004, a British firm called Trans European Securities International announced a $1.25 billion plan to transform the nearly 1,000-acre site into a resort. It would have included a glass-domed beach, ski slopes, hotels, shopping and equestrian trails.

That never materialized, but Industrial Realty Group scooped up the land in 2007 for about $20 million.

The California-based company’s plans to build mansions there also stalled amid the 2009-2010 recession, but has never been abandoned.

“They have a lot of money tied up in this. They don’t want to see it just sit there,” said Leshinski.

A TIF would allow nearby governments to split property tax revenues and offer incentives to IRG. That deal is still being negotiated.

It hangs on a vote by the Firelands school board.

District Superintendent Mike Von Gunten said a 30-year TIF has been discussed.

It would involve partnering with Lorain County to run a sewer line from the lakeshore down Baumhart Road and eventually into the former quarry property.

“I think the sewer line is definitely a game-changer for western Lorain County,” Von Gunten said.

The Board of Education is getting closer to a decision, with a vote likely in January or February, he said.

If the project moves forward, Firelands would keep collecting the same amount in property taxes. “We’re not going to lose anything. We have the potential to gain. The potential is there for some substantial development,” he said.

But it needs to be sustainable, “not just development for the sake of development,” said Von Gunten.

The majority of tax dollars in play go to the school system, said Amherst Township Trustee Dennis Abraham.

There are few other options for getting sewers to the rural area near the quarries, he said, and the large line being considered would create opportunities for commercial development up and down Baumhart Road.

“I think it’s a risk that’s worth taking and I’m hopeful the Firelands school district sees it in that context and takes that risk,” Abraham said.

“I think it’s best for the whole community. Sewers are desperately needed for future growth.”

IRG’s residential community would likely be gated, which means the company would take care of its own roads at no cost to the township, he said.

Abraham said he’s optimistic about the project, as long as the TIF doesn’t divert any money from the township’s fire and EMS levies.

Leshinski sees only benefits from IRG development. He said sewers would revolutionize life in South Amherst.

Everyone who lives in the village uses a septic system, including the mayor. “If I had the possibility of tying in, I’d start digging the trench tomorrow,” he said.

The IRG project would also likely bring more restaurants, hotels and homes to the western half of the county, said Leshinski.

“It would be a catalyst, I think, to have that there,” he said. “Avon is exploding. North Ridgeville is exploding. Things are migrating to the west of Cleveland.”

But he also views development as a matter of survival for the small village.

South Amherst suffered a near death blow when former clerk Kimberly Green stole $677,000 from the village treasury to buy lottery tickets between 2013 and 2015.

The ripple effects are still being felt. Voters just passed a fire levy this fall that Fire Chief Al Schmitz said would have been unnecessary if Green hadn’t stolen from the safety forces fund.

Officials are now staring down the barrel of the impending closure of South Amherst Middle School, which is being replaced by a new facility at Firelands’ Henrietta Township campus. The closure will mean a huge income tax hit for the village.

Abraham said he understands why some might oppose changes to life in what has always been a rural area of the county.

But he believes progress is needed.

“If you’re not growing, you’re going backwards, the way I look at it. You can’t survive in the future by trying to live in the past,” he said.