September 16, 2014

Elyria
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Beverly Hills? Nope – South Amherst quarry

For years, the old sandstone quarries on the county’s west side have been little more than holes in the ground filling up with water.

Truth be told, they weren’t much more than remnants of the county’s past.

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Stuart Lichter

But a California developer wants to make them part of the county’s future with plans for an upscale community in a natural setting with amenities ranging from an equestrian center to a 100-foot waterfall.

Industrial Realty Group President Stuart Lichter’s vision for the property isn’t going to be quick or cheap. The project, expected to take seven to 10 years, has a price tag in the $500 million range.

Lichter said the largely residential project, which eventually will have 1,150 homes ranging in price from $750,000 to $1.3 million on nearly 1,000 acres, will be focused on preserving the rustic natural feel that’s already there. About 70 percent of the land around the quarries will remain untouched.

“We hope to make the entire site pretty unobtrusive and not disturb what’s there,” he said.

Amenities

Beyond the homes, the property will include a hotel/conference center, hiking, biking and horse trails, indoor and outdoor swimming facilities, an indoor fitness center, indoor tennis, basketball and racquetball courts, a beach, and access to boating, skeet shooting, ice skating, fishing, orienteering, sled riding, and sleigh and carriage rides.

Lichter said the homes will range from condominiums and townhouses to homes with their own stables. While IRG will build some of the homes, future residents will be able to buy land and have their own custom homes built, but they will have to adhere to strict design standards focusing heavily on glass, wood and local sandstone.

The company hopes to minimize damage to the woods in the area and will limit the size of homes and require permits to remove trees.

Although Lichter said outdoor-activity focused developments have been done in the West, those are largely in wide-open areas with little other nearby development.

“I don’t think anything like this has been done so close to a major city,” he said, mentioning the proximity to Cleveland.

Although the plan includes a clubhouse featuring a hotel and conference center, most of the development won’t be open to the public. However, Lichter said some of the amenities would be available to the public through day passes and to those using the clubhouse.

“We want to make people who live there feel it’s protected and is private and still have some controlled public access,” he said.
County commissioners and other public officials had high praise for the project.

“Your vision is almost overwhelming,” Amherst Township trustee Dennis Abraham told Lichter on Tuesday at Lorain County Community College, where the plan was unveiled.

Construction

Construction on the project, which is expected to generate 1,000 to 2,000 jobs, likely won’t begin until the county can run a $26 million sewer line from a wastewater treatment plant on Lorain’s west side to the site. The county completed preliminary engineering on the sewer at a cost of about $400,000 two years ago, when British developer Trans European Securities was weighing a $1.25 billion investment at the site for a sprawling golf community.

County Administrator Jim Cordes said although the county still needs to secure easements for the sewer and get the blessing of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, he hopes work will begin on the sewer line in the spring. He said he promised IRG the sewer would be ready in two years.

One of the concerns regarding the sewer line is the engineering difficulties posed by the area’s sandstone base. Lichter said his understanding is that the sewer lines will be run about 6 feet beneath the ground — where the sandstone is largely rubble and dirt and not solid. Basements could be quarried from the solid rock and then that sandstone could be used in building homes, he said.

Impact

What the impact of such a massive development will be on the surrounding area is unclear. A tax-increment financing plan will fund the sewer project, but traffic studies to gauge the impact on the existing roads have yet to be completed, Lichter said.

But the sewers likely will open up land for development, including the likelihood of new schools for Firelands Schools, Cordes said.

Lichter said he isn’t certain what stores and other amenities his new community will need nearby that don’t already exist.

“I think there will be some peripheral development,” he said.

Cordes said South Amherst and Amherst and Brownhelm townships, where the quarry land lies, will almost definitely see some development that will support the project. That development could also spill over to Amherst and other nearby communities, he said.

The county is already estimating the impact from the jobs that will be created by the construction and later, when residents move into the project, will run at least in the $500 million to $600 million range, if not higher, county Commissioner Ted Kalo said.

Closing the deal

Lichter said he first heard of the property about two years ago from former Lorain Mayor Craig Foltin, who urged him to take a look at the property when Lichter was considering purchasing Ford’s former Lorain Assembly Plant, which IRG is now renovating.

Lichter said he had no idea what he would do with a quarry and didn’t think about it again until contacted by American Stone, which owns the property.

When he looked at the site, Lichter said he fell in love with its natural setting.

“We’re not going to ruin what’s there,” he said.

Although Lichter hasn’t done a development like this before — his company has made its name by reinventing defunct industrial buildings — he said he didn’t see how the Trans European plan, which included building a massive dome over part of the project, would have worked.

Golf communities, Lichter said, are fairly common and aren’t selling as well as they used to, and he doubts the commercial elements Trans European had planned to include in its project would have done well.

“In Lorain County, there’s no demand for that amount of commercial space,” he said. “In my view, they never would have got it finalized.”

American Stone cut off negotiations with Trans European in March after several deals to buy the land fell apart. In September, IRG announced it would purchase the land and the rest of the company’s assets, including its quarrying operations in Erie County, for $22 million. That deal is expected to be finalized today, said American Stone President Russ Ciphers Sr.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.