October 23, 2014

Elyria
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Nature lover Jack Smith offering land to Elyria

ELYRIA — Jack Smith does not consider himself a modern-day Heman Ely, but he does thank the city’s founder for the foresight that led to the establishment of Cascade and Elywood parks.

Jack Smith stands Tuesday on a property on West Bridge Street adjacent to the Black River that the Elyria resident wants to give to the city for a natural area he wants to call Black River Audubon Park. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

Jack Smith stands Tuesday on a property on West Bridge Street adjacent to the Black River that the Elyria resident wants to give to the city for a natural area he wants to call Black River Audubon Park. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

In a move that pays homage to Ely, Smith, a retired investment broker who now moonlights as an amateur naturalist, is looking to donate three parcels of land to the city so a park can be created on West Bridge Street. The park would be just over an acre in size, but with its close proximity to the Black River, Smith hopes parkgoers will see it as a perfect place to sit and appreciate nature.

“Old man Ely was thinking about the city to come for many, many years ahead,” Smith said. “He was not thinking about his lifetime, but 50, 60 or even 100 years in the future when the preservation of open land would be important. I agree with that mindset and would like to see as much open land preserved as possible. This is a small parcel, but it will make a nice little community park by the Black River.”

If City Council votes to accept the donation, which could take place as soon as Tuesday, the park will eventually be a combination of the three parcels from Smith and two parcels the city purchased with Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds.

Angie Byington, director of Community Development and Planning, said the city bought the land because it thought a small scenic park would be perfect in the area. However, it had a problem securing an adjacent parcel from an uncooperative seller. Byington said she doesn’t know what Smith paid for the parcels but appreciates that he thought about the city in the process.

Smith said he has been eyeing the area for decades and pieced together the donation over time. Seeking to develop the land or to build a structure on it never crossed his mind because of its size and location.

“Setting aside area long tributaries like the Black River are very important for the future to ensure residents have access to the river and the species of animals and plants native to the area,” he said. “As the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency mandates cities stop storm water and sewage from draining into rivers, the Black River will only increase in quality and become a natural gem in the city.”

Law Director Terry “Pete” Shilling said there is a vacant home on one of the parcels Smith intends to donate, but the city will use Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds to demolish the structure and clear the land.

“That’s the whole idea behind NSP — to clean up blight and get rid of vacant properties,” Shilling said.

Smith’s donation comes with two stipulations. First, he wants the park named the Black River Audubon Park in honor of his contributions to the Black River Audubon Society. Second, he wants a deed restriction on the property that if the city ever tries to develop their parcels for commercial or residential use, the donated parcels must revert back to his family’s estate.

Members of both the Community Development and Finance Committees seemed OK with the idea of establishing the park Monday but said they wanted to make sure the Parks and Recreation Board, which helps with long-term planning of the city’s many parks, was on board.

City Councilman Larry Tanner, D-1st Ward, was the only committee member to vote against accepting the donation. He said the city should be leery of such donations without more information.

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