Erie MetroParks hires consultant for land purchases

Leaders at Erie MetroParks have retained a hired gun from Michigan to help them say "no" when a property owner tries to sell them property for preservation. On the flip side, the consultant will also help them say "yes" when they want to purchase property.
Shawn Foucher
May 17, 2010

Leaders at Erie MetroParks have retained a hired gun from Michigan to help them say "no" when a property owner tries to sell them property for preservation.

On the flip side, the consultant will also help them say "yes" when they want to purchase property.

"We aren't seeking land, but we have the challenge that land is seeking us," said Steve Dice, the park system's director.

Hiring Michigan-based consultant Chris Bunch, of Generations Land Services, for $2,700 will help the park system establish an ironclad process when someone offers to sell them land, Dice said.

"It gives us defining parameters so that when a piece of land comes our way, we have a well-defined process to determine whether or not we want to proceed with acquisition," Dice said.

Brown's services come with a five-point process, whereby he helps the park system identify desirable land and create a master plan for land holdings and management.

He'll also help it identify potentially desireable properties, such as natural features or waterfront land. Beyond that, Brown will help Dice and others interact with potential sellers.

"You understand what you own, what more you want to own, what it's going to cost to operate it, and what the community wants," Bunch said at a park board meeting Wednesday.

The park system has worked with Western Reserve Land Conservancy over the past year to entertain sales offers for land at Barnes Nursery and various other locations throughout the county.

Dice and Bunch both formerly worked for Medina Summit Land Conservancy in Medina, and both men own Michigan property that's just miles apart.

When Dice first proposed to hire Bunch at Wednesday's meeting, he suggested the board could discuss the issue in executive session.

A guest at the meeting pointed out the issue didn't qualify for executive session, so the board agreed to table the issue.

The board did convene to executive session at the end of the meeting to discuss "real estate matters."

A day after the meeting, Dice said he learned he didn't need the board's approval to hire Bunch, since the $2,700 fee was below the $15,000 threshold for purchases requiring board approval.

He hired him on Thursday.

Wednesday's park board meeting, meanwhile, was rife with blistering comments from board members Tom Dusza and Micah Vawters.

Both Dusza and Vawters spent nearly 10 minutes explaining how Erie County Commissioners were wasting the park system's time by having Dice show up at county commissioners meetings every six months to report on the MetroPark's goings-on.

"Why don't they come here?" Dusza said.

Addressing Dice, Vawters added, "You're not responsible to them. Make sure to ask Monaghan that."

"I never felt the need to go there and answer to them," Dusza said.

The two board members then lamented the fact that their only tie to the county is $36,000 in annual Local Government Funds, state money that funnels through the county to the park system.

"They have to give us that money anyway," said Dusza, who is an attorney. "I'll sue them."

Vawters said "it's ridiculous" that county commissioners ask Dice for semi-annual reports.

"They're taking up our time by having (Dice) drive out there," Vawters said. "It's taking up our time."

"It's time you could take on the Greenway (issue)," Dusza said to Dice.

The park system has been rather successful in its legal issues surrounding the Huron River Greenway. The park district is opening every piece of the Greenway except for 700 feet. Vawters said the park system's success is directly attributable to paying more money for better attorneys.

It's on track to spend about $800,000 on Greenway legal fees by year's end.

Board member Kurt Landefeld was absent from Wednesday's meeting.

The park board is also poised to pay Cleveland-based Triad Research Group $10,675 to conduct a survey to see how area residents feel about the park system's various parks and services.

Dice said the park system may be pursuing a new levy in November.