ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP – A public hearing held Feb. 22 by the Ashtabula Township Board of Trustees to solicit public input before voting on a proposed rezoning of a portion of Peleg Sweet Park known as Veterans Point drew a capacity crowd to the Ashtabula Township Garage – with comments from attendees overwhelmingly against the rezoning.
Veterans Point is a small piece of land separated from the rest of Peleg Sweet Park by State Road and is currently home to the landmark Edgewood High “Warrior Country” sign, a veterans monument and another stone monument to early Ashtabula Township settler, Revolutionary War veteran and park namesake Peleg Sweet, who donated use of the land now utilized for the park to Ashtabula Township following his death.
The sale to Cleveland-based Visconsi Properties, LLC for the construction of a Sheetz service station has been a sore subject between township residents and the board since last spring, with residents calling into question the low asking price ($2,425) for a piece of land at the busy intersection of State Road and U.S. Route 20, the close proximity of Wallace H. Braden Middle School as well as Eastside Presbyterian Church, the dearth of green space in the township center and the fact the township has been unable to produce a deed for the land as yet.
Zoning Inspector Ryan Whitmire said Visconsi and Ashtabula Township are working on generating a deed for Veterans Point.
A request by the board to rezone the parcel from IG (institutional government use) to LB (local business use) was denied at a Jan. 24th Ashtabula Township Zoning Commission meeting and a Jan. 17 Ashtabula County Planning Commission meeting.
Board President Steven McClure asked for comments from visitors to remain confined to the rezoning, rather than other concerns raised since the controversy arose last spring.
“Three things we cannot discuss are the legality, the purchase price – because that's under negotiation – and the deed,” McClure said.
The public hearing went on for over two hours, with 15 township residents or businesspeople offering criticisms that ranged over all the subjects McClure had said the board cannot comment on
Anthony Metcalf, an Ashtabula Township resident and member of the Township Zoning Commission, presented a petition against the rezoning and made a brief but inflammatory statement.
“Here I have 213 signature from just happenstance, we set them in a few places but we didn't solicit these signatures,” Metcalf said. “We're not trying to stop Sheetz. We're trying to stop our park being sold to a large oil company that doesn't have our interests in mind. We think these [signature] speak volumes, these are people who are opposed to this sale.”
Metcalf's statement called the trustees' judgement and honesty into question.
“The township trustees, in my opinion, have failed their duty to be diligent in this matter,” Metcalf said. “We haven't seen any drawings, any plans as to what's going on in place of a park. We didn't even know anything about this – this was sort of done under the radar. The sale of a public park should go up for auction. Every single resident owns a blade of grass in that park. We're not against development, we're against under-the-radar development – we want to be a part of it.”
Metcalf said as a descendant of Peleg Sweet, he has a deep connection to the park and the community.
“You can't convince me you don't know the difference between a cemetery and a park – you've been serving too long in this capacity to convince me of that,” Metcalf said. “You've been fighting us for a year and a half on this. My family settled this property back in 1807 Peleg Sweet traded property in New Hampshire for property in this township – so I have a personal, emotional connection to me. He laid it out for the public's use, not for sale to the lowest bidder.”
Metcalf, who is running for a seat on the Ashtabula Township Board of Trustees, called on the current board members to resign.
“I believe you've become drunk in your power – what I suggest is you save yourself any more embarrassment and resign your posts immediately,” Metcalf said. “You obviously do not know the definition of a trustee is – one who holds property in public trust. You guys squandered the community's trust. We have a voice either tonight or November 9th at the ballot box – either way you're going to listen to the community. Please help me in this fight against the cancer in the community – I am saddened by your arrogance.”
McClure called Metcalf's motivations into question.
“I know you're running for trustee and this is a big campaign stunt for you,” McClure said. “You're going to have to wait until Nov. 9th. I support this and I stand by my conviction. My vision is to spur more development in the 20 corridor at State Road. I'm standing my ground and I support this.”