ELYRIA — With strong pressure from large private employer Parker Hannifin, the city is trying to leverage a cleanup of the fire-ravaged former General Industries site.
Mayor Holly Brinda stopped short of saying Wednesday that the international corporation with two sites in Elyria is threatening to leave over the conditions at the site.
“But they have very strongly encouraged us to deal with the situation,” she said. “They have been very patient for a very long time, and we have to respect that patience with action on our part.”
The former General Industries factory at Taylor and Olive streets erupted in flames late July 3, 2008. It took more than 120 firefighters from 24 different fire departments to bring the inferno under control. In the end, nothing remained but a burned-out, asbestos-contaminated debris field that stretched for two-blocks and a property owner who had no insurance to cover the cost of cleanup or to rebuild.
By summer 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepped in to handle the asbestos cleanup, but not much has happened since. Now, Brinda said, the city is faced with having to do something to appease the property owners that surround the site.
“Neighbors have expressed concerns with the current state of the property, and Parker Hannifin has made it clear to us that they view the site as an eyesore and a hazard,” Brinda said. “So even though we are not the property owners, we have some responsibility to address the situation because no one wants to see 300 jobs leave this city.”
Aidan Gormley, spokesman for the corporation, which has locations on Taylor Street and Ternes Avenue, did not have a comment when reached Wednesday.
City Law Director Scott Serazin said the city has placed a $40,000 lien on the property on top of the almost $900,000 lien the U.S. EPA has placed on the property. In addition, the city adamantly objected to property owner John Peshek’s attempt to have the property tax value reduced to zero through the Board of Revisions.
“We aren’t restricting ourselves to one approach,” Serazin said.
But the biggest obstacle the city is facing is the ownership of the property. The property is actually owned by Peshek’s company, B Vest Properties LLC, a limited liability company, and Peshek did not have insurance.
“It’s very difficult to get a property owner to bring a property into compliance when they have no assets to do it or the property is owned by an asset-less corporation, which is the case here,” Serazin said. “Even if we could get a judgment or injunction in our favor, the corporation has no asset we can go after.”
Brinda said the city could become eligible for funding through federal brownfields grants, which are set up to give cities the financial power to rehabilitate abandoned or underused industrial and commercial sites for future development, but that comes with a condition.
“We may have to become the owner of the property to be eligible for some of these opportunities,” she said. “We prefer for the owner to assume the next steps of the cleanup, but that hasn’t happened as of yet.”
When Brinda mentioned the notion of taking over responsibility for the property during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Serazin said he watched Council members recoil.
“They know what that would mean for the city, and I don’t think anyone would take on that kind of liability lightly,” he said. “This is not just about what is on the surface of the property. There could be layers of contamination.”
Councilman Larry Tanner, D-at large, said that at one time he received weekly complaints from residents about the site. The calls have since died down, but that does not mean the property should be left to sit.
“If we can get it under the right circumstances like the federal government removing the lien and the owner signing the property over to the city, then it would be worth it,” Tanner said. “I can’t think of any other area in the city of that size that already has the infrastructure in place and is so close to transportation arteries. That could be a good chunk of land for redevelopment.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or email@example.com.