November 29, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria debating joining regional planning group

ELYRIA — City Council is at odds over joining a regional planning group that is being pushed by Mayor Bill Grace and comes with a requirement of a $23,000 contribution.

The Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium is a fairly new nonprofit group that is looking at a growth plan for a 12-county area comprised of Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Summit, Stark, Trumbull and Wayne counties. It is backed by a three-year, $4.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but member municipalities are asked to contribute time and money.

The ultimate goal is to craft an economic development growth plan that includes land use, transportation and the preservation of natural resources.

During a joint meeting Monday of Council’s Community Development and Finance committees, members were divided over whether Elyria can contribute the money.

A motion to partner with the group died in the Community Development Committee for lack of support. Later, a motion recommending membership was passed 3-2 by the Finance Committee, which is headed by Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large.

“This is an opportunity for us to be a part of the big picture,” Stewart said.

“It’s a step in the right direction.”

His words were echoed by Councilman Tom Callahan, D-at large, who had less luck swaying the members of his Community Development Committee.

“If we don’t do this, we are letting something that could benefit the city go by the wayside,” the chairman said. “Basically, we would be saying we don’t want a say in future growth in the area.”

Councilwoman Donna Mitchell, D-6th Ward, was the most vocal opponent and openly questioned what the city would get in exchange for its contribution. She said she didn’t hear anything that allowed her to justify the expense to her constituents.

“Time and time again, we are going to residents saying we have no money, yet we have $23,000 to put to this when there are no guarantees,” Mitchell said. “We are kidding ourselves if we think people think of Elyria when they think the Greater Cleveland area.”

City Council as a whole will vote on the measure Tuesday. Grace said the $23,000 is a combination of both in-kind support and actual cash donations. City employees’ time and effort can be counted toward the contribution. The rest, he said, could come from the monetary support the city gives to Team Lorain County.

Instead of $23,000 a year, he suggested to Council the amount could drop to $15,000 a year.

Steve Moray, president of the economic development group Team Lorain County, said nearly all communities in the county contribute to Team Lorain County, some more than others. Still, a cut from Elyria would not stop efforts to promote the city as a part of the county, he said.

“We are here to promote the entire county as a whole,” he said.

Steve Hambley, chairman of the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, said it’s hard to detail in tangible ways what Elyria would get for its money, but he said being a part of the group is good for communities that embrace regionalism.

“As a municipality, you have interdependency on a lot of federal agencies as well as a lot of communities,” said Hambley, who also is a Medina County commissioner and president of Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency.

“I am the commissioner of Medina, but I know my residents work in other communities, so it’s helpful to be at the table to look at what benefits your communities as well as others.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.