July 28, 2014

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HarborWalk residents have sore spots on the shore

LORAIN — About 35 residents living in the HarborWalk housing development want Council to help fix what they say is their new development’s shabby appearance.

CHUCK HUMEL/CHRONICLE
A group of 35 residents at Spitzer HarborWalk would like city officials’ help to get the tall weeds in nearby vacant lots removed.

The residents have asked in a letter sent to Council this week for an opportunity to discuss their problems at an upcoming meeting.

Councilman David Wargo, D-1st Ward, and chairman of the building and lands committee, said he is considering giving them an opportunity to speak when his committee meets later this month.

At issue are several undeveloped areas in the waterfront community that the residents say contain rock-infested soil and tall weeds.

The group’s leader, Ed Rinderknecht, who has lived in HarborWalk for five years, said the poor appearance is hurting home sales, and he fears property values will decrease.

“We’re embarrassed as a group,” Rinderknecht said. “We don’t even like to bring our family and friends over here. It looks like we’re living in a third world country.”

HarborWalk has been touted as the “gem” of Lorain and has been cited by city officials as an example of Lorain’s rebirth. The land used to be the site of American Ship Building Co. before that company left town about 25 years ago. Wealthy businessman Alan

Spitzer, CEO of Spitzer Management Inc., originally had intended for the land to be the site of a casino, but those plans were abandoned after two failed attempts to get voters to approve gambling in Ohio.

Even though the development was built in a blighted area, the city’s community development department still uses it to attract businesses to town.

That’s what’s so confusing to Rinderknecht, who said the city is not enforcing its own ordinances and suspects the reason is because the land HarborWalk was built on belongs to Spitzer, whose right-hand man is Lorain Democratic Party Chairman Anthony Giardini.

But Giardini said the areas those residents are complaining about are construction sites where homes will one day be built. He said they look great compared with the appearance of most subdivisions under construction.

“We have gone above and beyond to make that development look great,” he said. “You go to any other subdivision where houses are being built and you’ll see trailers in people’s yards and dirt piles in lawns.”

He said there are still more than 100 people who live in the development who are very happy, and some who compare living in the townhomes, condos and cottages that overlook the river to being on vacation every day.
Giardini said Spitzer, who asked that Giardini speak for him, is only taking heat because of who he is and who he knows.

Homes were already supposed to be built on the undeveloped land by Cleveland-based Zaremba Homes, with whom Spitzer contracted to develop the land, but a troubling housing market has halted construction, Giardini said.

“If Zaremba would have been able to build homes on schedule, there would be homes there and they wouldn’t be complaining,” Giardini said.

Construction on HarborWalk began in 2001, but only about 180 of the 355 homes that were promised have been built and only about 160 have been sold, Giardini said. Homes there go for anywhere from $165,000 to $260,000. The project will probably take an additional five years to complete while Zaremba Homes waits for buyers, Giardini said.

The city engineer’s office has received complaints from residents for nearly a year, saying that the undeveloped land required seeding and grading, according to engineer Pat McGannon.

After talks stalled about which entity should take care of the seeding and grading —the city, Spitzer or Zaremba —the city eventually donated fill dirt and the grading and seeding was completed by Spitzer this summer, McGannon said.
What remains are the patches of brown grass and rocky soil behind a portion of homes.

“Unfortunately, even this limited effort failed when hydro seed was spread over the top of rock and gravel, leaving the area as unsightly as ever,” Rinderknecht wrote in a recent letter to the editor.

Giardini said Rinderknecht is a former salesman at Zaremba Homes, who left the company on bad terms and is merely trying to stir up trouble in an effort to hurt company president Nathan Zaremba.

“It’s absolutely a vendetta against them,” Giardini said.

Rinderknecht began working at Aqua Marine Condominium Association selling condos about two months ago, and Larry Ward, a manager for Spitzer Management Inc., said he questions whether his interest in sales at his new job is motivation to cause problems for HarborWalk.

Rinderknecht said he left Zaremba on good terms and still has nothing but admiration for the company’s owner. He said he’s been complaining about HarborWalk for three years and his new job has nothing to do with his distaste for HarborWalk’s appearance.

Neither Zaremba nor any representatives from Zaremba Homes returned several messages seeking comment for this story.

Matthew Yacobozzi, a branch manager for a local mortgage lending company and former owner of a HarborWalk condo, said he had nothing but good experiences there. He sold his home last year after a buyer made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“My feeling is that the market condition is really bad right now, and people there should just wait it out,” he said.

Contact Adam Wright at 653-6257 or awright@chroniclet.com.