By Nancy Schaar
Monroe Twp. Trustees had an unusually large crowd attend the Feb. 1 meeting, held in the township garage.
Nearly 40 people, most of whom live near Atwood Lake Lodge, were there to protest the proposed opening of a world class alcohol and drug rehab center in the former motel.
Township Trustees Brian McIntire and Randy Dingler attended the Jan. 30 meeting of county commissioners to say they had concerns and were receiving phone calls from upset residents in the township.
McIntire said they were there for answers because all they had were questions.
Commissioners spent about 30 minutes explaining the lodge and approximately 75 acres were sold to the highest bidder at an auction Aug. 10, 2016.
Commissioner Jeff Ohler said the sale of the lodge has been in the media for over five months. And now that the sale has been finalized he is hearing that people are upset and said he doesn’t understand.
Commissioners and William Burns of the Youngstown area (the buyer) signed final documents to complete the sale Dec. 27.
“We have no right to dictate to the buyer how he can use that property. We can’t tell him what he can or can’t do any more than we can tell the neighbors of that property what they can do with their property,” said Ohler.
“We had to sell to the highest bidder. We could not discriminate against one type of business from another. The law does not allow that. We couldn’t pick and choose what kind of business the buyer was going to operate,” said Commissioner Bob Wirkner.
Commissioners noted Burns plans to operate a premier facility and will need to hire restaurant staff, food service personnel, grounds keepers, housekeepers and activity directors, along with professional medical staff, and counselors, therapists and more.
McIntire opened the Feb. 1 meeting by saying he and Dingler met with commissioners. He said they learned there were no deed restrictions on the property. “I don’t know MWCD’s end of it. It will be a high-end alcohol and drug rehab center. I don’t know anything about the property buyer,” said McIntire.
Residents questioned why commissioners and/or Burns was not there to answer their questions. McIntire told the crowd commissioners knew they were meeting Wednesday night but chose not to come.
The recording of the Jan. 30 commissioners meeting indicates McIntire asked commissioners to attend one of their meetings. Commissioner Bob Wirkner replied that he would be willing to do that.
“Our next meeting will be Wednesday night which is not a good night. We meet the first and third Wednesday at 7 p.m. of the month. I think we are going to have company Wednesday night. I guess it’s probably best that we talk to them first and I don’t think you want to be involved in the very first meeting when they all show up,” said McIntire.
Wirkner responded to McIntire saying he committed to being at the meeting on the 15th to provide information to answer questions from residents.
During the Feb. 1 meeting, a woman who did not identify herself asked if the lodge was a “done deal” or could they, as residents, make an impact.
McIntire responded by saying the county prosecutor says as Monroe Township trustees, they don’t have anything they can do on their end. “It’s a domestic dispute at this point. That’s all I know,” said McIntire.
Sheriff Dale Williams has been asked to attend the meeting and was singled out to answer many questions regarding drug addicts, theft and robbery.
“This is the first for our county. I don’t know how it will turn out. I have a great concern for this type of facility. Is it a safe environment? We are going to make sure it is that way,” said Williams.
Resident Becky Giauque was very vocal and made several comments.
“Is this a lock down? They have to have 24-hour support for EMS that would be needed. Two elderly people live at the bottom of the hill. They’ll be a perfect target. They have to have 24-hour security,” said Giauque.
Michelle Flechtner questioned Williams as to who pays his department for security. Williams explained his department has been providing security since the auction last August. He said commissioners paid his security costs from funds the county received for oil and gas leases for the lodge property. Those funds, according to the agreement with MWCD, could not be used for any other purpose than lodge expenses. Williams stipulated that not one cent of county money was spent.
Giauque stated MWCD had requested a business plan from Burns but never received one. “Can you turn off the water?” Giague asked Barbara Bennett, director of Administrative Services and Don Borland, deputy chief of Lease Operations for the MWCD.
“We are here to listen. We are still gathering information,” said Bennett who added there’s a fine line in turning water off due to safety and fire issues. Bennett said Burns has not met with them regarding a water agreement for the property. No rates, charges, or contracts have even been discussed, according to Bennett.
“The ball is in the owner’s court right now,” said Bennett.
“There should have been more investigations. Other people wanted the lodge. There’s been a lot of shady stuff,” responded a woman in the crowd.
“Commissioners are using the Ohio Revised Code. Why would anyone come from Youngstown to open a center here?” asked Mitzi Baker.
Several people in the crowd questioned why commissioners were allowed to do this. One person spoke out, asking, “Why didn’t MWCD stop them?
Giauque said the original agreement with MWCD and the county stipulated the land be used to promote recreation and economic development.
Bennett responded by saying once the lodge closed, the majority of the property and the mineral rights were to be returned to MWCD.
“There was an amendment for 418 acres and six lots to come back to MWCD. Commissioners got 75 acres and the lodge. t was sold at auction. Kiko was to qualify the buyers. There were stipulations that there were to be no mining, no drilling, no water wells and no farming,” said Bennett.
“Burns said in the paper that there is little work to be done. How is that possible for a medical facility?” questioned Giauque.
Ray Webber said he owns a home near the lodge and is planning to sell. Webber asked if he has to tell potential buyers that a drug and rehab center is going in. He felt that would make it difficult to sell his property.
Many residents there were worried about drug addicts leaving the lodge facility since, they said, it was stated by Burns it will not be a lock down facility. Residents asked if the addicts get out and rob their homes to get goods to sell for drug money, who will protect them?
Williams assured residents patrols of the property and the area will continue. He told residents who do not live in lake homes year round they can have their property listed with his office and deputies will make routine checks of the property for them.
An unidentified man suggested they invite Burns and his attorney to the Feb.15 meeting. Several people said if Burns has any good intentions, he will be there and answer their questions.
“Commissioners shared very little with me. Burns has not shared his plans,” said McIntire.
“Why did he get the extensions? Why have commissioners allowed this?” asked Giauque.
Commissioners granted Burns extensions on the closing date to allow him time to bring investors on board.
Baker asked Williams if he receives a list of criminals who might be ordered from the court to get treatment. “How will we know what kind of criminals are in residence at the lodge?” she asked.
Williams said he does get a print out identifying criminals from the county courts but would not get them from other counties.
“Who can take the lead: Sheriff, township, MWCD? I’d take a prison up there over this,” said Giauque.
“I will do what I can to contact him. I will get Burns and his attorney to attend the meeting on the 15. We are all in it together. We feel like you do,” said McIntire.
Bennett said when Burns met last fall with the MWCD executive director he didn’t have a business card. “We need the information as much as you do. Water still needs to be negotiated. We’re still gathering information. We are adjoining property owners,” continued Bennett.
The FPS contacted Commissioner Wirkner was contacted following the Wednesday night meeting, He said that he has been in contact with Burns through email and will speak to him about these issues before the Feb. 15 15.
“There is nothing we can do about the use of the property. Commissioners did what we were obligated to do. It’s sold. ORC prohibits us from discriminating against one type of business over another. If anything is to be done, it would have to be done by the township trustees to change the zoning for that area. I will be at the meeting on the 15th as I said I would. I would have come to Wednesday’s meeting but was asked not to by the township trustees,” said Wirkner.
The Feb. 15 meeting will be held in township hall at 7 p.m.