September 1, 2014

Elyria
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Quarry plan expected to spur other projects

SOUTH AMHERST — Development tends to follow sewers, and with the county planning to build a $26 million sewer to support a $500 million upscale development, more construction is likely to follow.

South Amherst Mayor Ron Schmitz said he fully expects more development now that California-based Industrial Realty Group has announced a plan to build 1,150 homes — with prices up to $1.3 million — on nearly 1,000 acres of abandoned quarry land in his village and Amherst and Brownhelm townships.

That development could be a good thing, he said — if it’s done right.

“We’re not just going to hand them the key to town,” Schmitz said.

But with IRG’s announcement only a few days old, no one is exactly sure what development the project will bring.

Schmitz said he’d like to see retail and restaurants spring up in South Amherst, but he also worries about the traffic the development could bring with it.

County Commissioner Ted Kalo said it’s too early to tell what the impact will be from the quarry project and the sewer.

“Once the project gets started, I think we’ll see a lot more happening,” he said.

Kalo would like to see the Baumhart Road exit off the Ohio Turnpike built up. It would mean more visitors to the county who will be spending money. But there was no way the lonely exit — it’s one of the toll road’s least used — was going to see development without sewers, he said.

IRG announced in September it would acquire American Stone, which owned the quarry land, after several deals with British developer Trans European Securities fell apart. American Stone cut off negotiations with the company in March.

Trans European continued to express interest in the project even after the negotiations failed, and the company still has an option to buy about 100 acres of land near the Turnpike, county Administrator Jim Cordes said.

“They still have an option to buy a very nice parcel of land,” he said. “Maybe they’ll do something, maybe they won’t.”

Cordes said he is scheduled to meet with Trans European officials early next year and will know more about the company’s plans then.

The optioned land has been farmed by David Miller’s family since the 1860s. He said he plans to keep farming because the British company hasn’t expressed an interest in following through on the option and actually buying it.

But that doesn’t mean others won’t try to buy the rest of his land, as they did when Trans European announced its $1.25 billion plan for the quarry a few years ago.

“When they first talked about this a few years back, the phone rang off the hook,” Miller said.

And even land that’s miles away from the quarry could benefit from the development. The residents will need places to shop, said David Hall, president of Hudson-based Great Lakes Development, which owns about 275 acres on Baumhart Road on the northwest side of the state Route 2 exit ramp there.

With IRG president Stuart Lichter taking an interest in the area — with both the quarry project and his renovations at the Ford’s closed Lorain Assembly Plant — it’s showing would-be tenants that the area has a future, Hall said.

“For many, many years, in our opinion, this part of Lorain County has been looked at as the hinterlands, it’s too far out,” he said. “Here’s a national player, Stuart Lichter, saying it’s good to invest here.”

Hall said his company is in talks with “national retailers” to build stores on the land his company owns.

Firelands Schools Superintendent Max Shoff said he can’t predict how many students the district will eventually get from the quarry project, but he believes more development — both residential and commercial — will come once the sewer is completed in two years and work begins in earnest on IRG’s development.

“I just truly believe growth is going to follow it,” he said.

While sewer lines usually aid development, there are cases when it doesn’t. Case in point: A sewer line run out to the Lorain County Regional Airport years ago — better known as the “sewer to nowhere” — failed to spur development off state Route 58 as expected. Kalo said not even a newly constructed Turnpike interchange on the road has done a whole lot to bring new companies and development to the area.

Still, Kalo thinks the quarry project could change that, particularly with the airport so close.

“The airport will have a lot more action, and we’ll see a lot more build up,” he said.

That’s not always a good thing, David Miller said.

“I prefer the rural atmosphere, but they call it progress,” he said.

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