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Environment


Northeast Ohio opts again for parkland over development
Multiple organizations and the Chagrin River will work to transform Aurora Golf Course into an Aurora park
by WKSU's MARK URYCKI


Reporter
Mark Urycki
 
The Aurora Golf Course was a private country club until 2008
Courtesy of Urycki
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In The Region:

Another Northeast Ohio golf course has closed. 
One in South Euclid recently sold to become a shopping center. And another, in Lyndhurst, is being transformed into a park. Now the city of Aurora has come up with $4.7 million to buy the Aurora Golf Course.

The deal is happening only because a number of agencies around Ohio are working together to protect the Chagrin River. WKSU’s Mark Urycki has details.

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You still have about a week to appeal to the Ohio Environmental Appeals Review Commission to stop the sale. But for now it looks like the Aurora Golf Course is no more. Aurora Mayor Dave Fisher says that's the reality.

 “It was never going to stay a golf course for a very long period of time. I think the owner of the property saw it as, ‘I’m going to sell it somehow.  Either I’m going to go through the preservation opportunity or I’m going to sell it to a developer.’”

Former Mayor Lynn McGill wanted to buy the private course and make it a city-owned course, but determine that wouldn't be viable. So he decided to preserve it as a 194-acre park.  And he had plenty of help.

The environmental group the Trust for Public Land got involved to come up with funding. Dave Vasarhelyi of the trust says it has now worked with Aurora on five projects.  He calls the city a model.

“They are the municipality within the state that has done the most ... protection of the watershed resources in their community.”

The money trail
Here’s where the story gets convoluted: To get the money, the Trust for Public Land went to the Ohio EPA, which went to the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. The Sewer District borrowed money from the EPA for a separate project in Cuyahoga Heights, using the agency’s  revolving loan fund.  It’s sort of like money laundering, but it’s legal and for a good cause.  EPA spokesman Mike Settles explains:

“(By) receiving that loan and a low-interest loan, the sewer district agrees to sponsor a restoration program in the area and part of the interest money that sewer district would normally pay back to the revolving loan will instead be diverted over to the city of Aurora, so they can do this restoration project.”


Aurora will get $4.7 million, $3.9 million to buy the golf course, and the rest to pay for restoring the course to a natural state. 
“If someone was going to write me a check for $4 million," says Mayor Fisher, "I probably would not buy the Aurora Golf Course for preservation reasons. I would  spend it somewhere else in the city.”  

But the EPA money is tied to clean-water projects and the city’s only expense is $30,000 for closing costs. There are two country clubs within one mile of the Aurora Golf Course. The Aurora clubhouse, existing homes, and 11 other acres of the course will be kept for private development.


Mayor Fisher says he could have gone either way on this deal, but decided to support the vision of former Mayor McGill, who left office early due to illness.

“Some people believe preservation approach to the course takes away its manicured look and it may have a negative impact on their property values. And then there are other people who will say, 'Well, it’ll have a positive impact on my property value because nothing will ever be built there.'”

Water buffer and filter
Environmentalists worry that even residential development of that land would harm its ability to absorb rain water and filter out chemical runoff. 

Two miles of the Aurora Branch of the Chagrin River runs through the golf course, much of it through artificial channels and culverts. Dave Vasarhelyi says those will be removed, the land will be reforested, and a dam will be torn down – all to improve water quality.

“You have your associated herbicides and pesticides that were used extensively when it was a golf course but are used in somewhat large proportions in residential developments as well.  And those have  certainly an impact on the water quality.”

The fairways and greens will become meadows or woods; cart paths will become hike and bike trails.  All this will border the oldest bird sanctuary in Ohio -- the Aurora Preserve. Vasarhelyi says restoring land and rivers back to a natural state is the best job in the world. 

“There’s nothing like seeing a nice rainbow trout sitting in a pool that was once bulk-headed or dammed up and not supporting anything.” 

The work to turn the Aurora Golf Course into a city park is expected to commence this spring and be completed by the end of the year. 

(Click image for larger view.)

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