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Orchard Park dilemma – VFD or not?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Photo by Judith Pannebaker
Medina's Orchard Park subdivision

A brouhaha seems about to boil over in Medina and the community’s volunteer fire department might have been the catalyst.
Columnist Bev Barr, who covers Medina for the Courier, touched upon the growing controversial issue in her Thursday, April 28, submission:
“Last week, the Board of Directors for the Orchard Park of Medina Property Owners Association, Inc. (OPPOA) sent a letter to property owners stating that the architectural control committee and the board of directors oppose any changes to deed restrictions at this time.”
However, according to Barr, “The letter omits important information – seemingly attempting to manipulate the outcome of a proposal they foresee. For instance, the letter describes a 7,000 square foot metal building and anything else the owners would choose to build, but neglects to mention that the Medina Volunteer Fire Department is the interested buyer and that the metal building would be a fire station.” In the minds of Barr and others, puts a vastly different spin on the situation.
Barr continued, “Orchard Park residents Don and Reesa Gillette were troubled enough by the board’s preemptive-strike that they, too, wrote a letter to all of the property owners, clearly articulating information the board of directors omitted from the original correspondence.
“The Gillettes expressed their support for the firefighters and encouraged a transparent dialogue among neighbors and community.”
Dueling letters
The Courier has obtained a copy of the April 18 letter from the board of directors, as well as a copy of the Gillette’s letter, dated April 22. As Barr indicated, no mention was made in the original letter that the fire department was looking to expand within the Orchard Park subdivision.
In an email, Jack Smith, president of the OPPOA Board of Directors, was asked the reason that the prospective purchaser – the Medina Volunteer Fire Department – was omitted from his letter.
In an interview, Smith said the information about the VFD had not been included because a representative from the fire department had not yet contacted him or the board about the intentions.
“We just wanted the homeowners to know that a letter might be going out to them about this,” Smith said. He admitted that no property owners had received mailings requesting amendments to the subdivision’s deed restrictions. Therefore, the board’s letter appeared to be, as Barr characterized, a “preemptive strike.”
In his original letter, Smith wrote that landowners “might” have received a mailing requesting they approve amendments to the Orchard Park Deed Restrictions. However, as Barr pointed out: “It seems the board has made a decision about a proposal that hasn’t even been proposed yet!”
Deed restrictions
Current deed restrictions allow only single-home residential dwellings to be constructed in the subdivision. Metal buildings are also prohibited although a few are reportedly scattered about the subdivision. Changes in the deed restrictions must be approved by 75 percent of the property owners.
According to Smith, members of the OPPOA Board and Architectural Control Committee – of which Smith serves as chairman – currently oppose any changes. Other members of the architectural control committee include Mikie Baker, Courier columnist, who, Smith noted, also opposes changes, and Abel Devora.
Along with Smith, OPPOA Board members include Vice President Paul Hilliard, Secretary Marissa Gonzalez, Treasurer Gayle Dantoni and Member At Large Steve Salyards.
In response to the board’s missive of April 18, Orchard Park resident Don H. Gillette sent his own letter to the subdivision’s 50-plus landowners. “We tried to include everyone,” said his wife, Reesa, in an interview on Tuesday, April 27, “but we might have missed a few people.”
In his letter, Gillette took umbrage with the OPPOA board making “… a decision on my behalf without informing me of all of the facts leading to that decision.” Moreover, he believed that facts had been “purposely omitted from that letter.”
Noting that “a few of the owners think that it will somehow reduce the value of their property,” Gillette wrote, “I cannot believe that anyone can seriously believe that having a fire station close to a neighborhood reduces the value of the property.”
VFD meeting
He recently attended a VFD meeting where concerns of Orchard Park homeowners were discussed, including noise, night lighting and use of subdivision roads and property.
According to Gillette, an “attractive barrier” would be designed to separate Orchard Park Boulevard and the rest of the subdivision from the fire station. The barrier, along with trees and shrubs, would mitigate any additional noise from the fire station. Entrances and exits from the area would come from Highway 16 or a road from the Oak Rest Cemetery. To maintain the area’s dark skies, motion detector lights would be pointed downward and away from the neighborhood.
“Keep in mind the existing fire station is only about 100 yards down Highway 16 from the proposed building site,” Gillette wrote. “It is hard for me to believe that the 100 yards will make any difference in the almost non-existent noise produced by the existing station.”
Working with an architect, Medina fire fighting administrators will produce a rendering of the proposed station house for homeowners in the near future, Gillette said. At that time, a letter of explanation will also be sent. “Unlike the letter from the OPPOA board leads you to believe, the fire department is trying to inform homeowners of exactly what they intend,” he wrote.
Gillette enumerated two reasons to support the construction of a proposed new fire station on Orchard Park land. “It costs us absolutely nothing and it will support an organization that does only good for the community, which is made up of our friends and neighbors. The new station would allow the fire department to add more and better equipment to their inventory. This adds up to better firefighting capabilities.”
Lots for sale
Smith noted that the property in question, five lots at the front of the subdivision, had been on the market “for 10 years.” Property owner Mary Ann Spangler currently lives in the Utopia-Vanderpool area with her husband, Bill.
“To carve out property for a fire department, the deed restrictions must be amended or replatting cannot occur,” he said.
“The homeowners want to protect the integrity of Orchard Park,” Smith added. “Property owners are upset and angry. They don’t want to look at a large metal building at the front of their subdivision. The Gillettes would need 75 percent of the property owners to approve replatting and they don’t have it. The majority of the homeowners oppose replatting. They don’t want to set a precedent. It’s a slippery slope.”
For her part, Reesa Gillette asked, “Who would be opposed to the fire department coming into the community? But, if the majority of the Orchard Park residents don’t want the fire department here, then fine, we won’t have them. However, that’s a decision we want to make. We don’t want the board to make it for us.”
Low cost housing?
Smith feared that replatting would open the door to commercial development or low cost housing.
Additionally, he said that there are several areas in Medina to relocate the fire department. “There’s acreage beside the post office, and the fire department also owns property on Highway 16, just a quarter mile away from the present location and on Stringtown Road, as well.”
Concluding his letter, Gillette asked homeowners to write the OPPOA Board and offer their opinions – pro or con on amending the deed restrictions.
Smith said the OPPOA Board of Directors would adopt a “wait and see” attitude regarding the intentions of the Medina VFD.
Additionally, if residents have questions about the not-yet-proposed fire station construction and usage, they are urged to contact Lee Bailey at 210-771-0645 or lwbailey@reagan.com.