Meeting draws heated exchange over I-90 interchange

June 9 – Avon

By Beth Mlady

Tempers flared from the outset of a Thursday information session in City Hall, as property owners and residents shared confusion and anger over “unfair” property tax assessments conceived to help fund construction of a new I-90 interchange in Avon.

While the city has given affected business owners a spreadsheet of proposed tax assessments for their properties, due upon completion of the interchange, those same individuals came out last week to assess the situation for themselves.

“Anytime somebody pays money, people aren’t thrilled with it,” Mayor Jim Smith said of the assessments, which will come due in February 2014. “Nobody is. It would have been cheaper with help from NOACA (Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency), and we didn’t have much help. For an economic development tool – which is the interchange – I don’t know why everybody was throwing the skids over it … and it cost us all money. We’re probably five years late on when it should have been built. Costs were down then.”

He anticipated the crowd’s mood in an interview just prior to the meeting and said he was “mad” as well because of “how much extra money has to go into this because of the lack of help we’ve received.” When asked why the city wants to build the interchange now, when the state is providing no funding and property owners in close proximity to the highway will provide one-third of the total cost (The Jacobs Group will pay one-third as well), he mentioned traffic congestion and economics.

“The costs go up, and the necessity goes up right along with it,” Smith said. “I don’t blame these people for being mad. We’ve all got to figure this out together.”

Planning Coordinator Jim Piazza opened the meeting with an overview and construction timeline.

“We should be out to bid about a year from now,” Piazza said. “July of next year we hope to have a shovel in the ground.”

Margaret Callesen, a bond attorney with Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP, who has been working with city officials, spoke next.

“This type of assessment won’t be any different than any other … it’s just larger in scope,” she said, adding the method of using “properties that are specially benefiting” is the “best measure” for the calculations.

Lawrence Kell, senior vice president at Colliers Ostendorf-Morris, who appraised the properties, said, “The most important criteria is proximity.” He went on to say, “visibility prior to the interchange … is a major benefit.”

Business owner Rose Jenne, of Jenne Distributors on Chester Road, spoke several times during the meeting.

“I think it’s unfair,” Jenne said. “This interchange is definitely going to affect my business. It will cost me $1.5 million to move my building. (The interchange) doesn’t benefit me. It will kill my business.

“It’s not only the assessments … but after all of that, land is going to be taxed higher. So we’re going to get hit twice.”

Callesen said the interchange analysis was based on “whether it benefits the property, not the business.”

Smith said future development will help lessen the assessment amounts and estimated the “worst-case scenario” of construction costs to be $27 million.

But many property owners feel the weight of the burden rests squarely on them. Ed Connelly of Connelly Landscaping called the situation “scary,” saying to cover the money he will eventually owe will “take a lot of time, and you have to sell a lot of bushes.”

“What you call (assessment) methodology, I call objective opinion,” Mike Kelly, a Just Imagine Drive businessman, said. “You guys are going to have to go back to the drawing board.”

Another man agreed, saying, “If it’s something the city can’t afford right now, it just shouldn’t happen. You should be going to Jacobs (Group, which owns 220 acres of affected property) and telling them to pony up.”

One attendee invited others to join him in a class action suit against the assessments.

“Are you working on a Plan B?” asked another man. “Because this thing is probably going to be shut down.”

As property owners looked over the documents prior to leaving, one of them summarized to Smith and Piazza his overall impression of the assessments.

“Your charts are not hard to understand,” he said. “They’re hard to swallow.”

A Resolution of Necessity could be discussed by City Council before year’s end. Future meetings to discuss the I-90 interchange will be announced by city officials.

Contact Beth Mlady at mladywrites@yahoo.com

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