CARLISLE TWP. — The housing market is bouncing back, but residents of the nearly 200 homes in the Brentwood Lake subdivision say they face a special challenge.
The big draw to their properties was having the lake, which is now a swamp after authorities breached a dam in early 2010.
“It was neat — you could go canoeing in your backyard,” said Alison Bessey, whose home at 42 Lakeview Drive is one of four homes for sale in the area.
Bessey, married with two young children, said the growing family would be looking for a new home no matter what, but the loss of the lake is a blow.
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Another neighbor, Deanna Witbeck, is looking to move to Texas after 38 years in her ranch at 40 Lakeview Drive.
“It used to be the elite place to live,” in the Midview school district, Witbeck said.
Witbeck’s Realtor, Lisa Eyring, said things are looking up in the housing market, but the loss of Brentwood Lake definitely affected the neighborhood.
“That was the focal point of the development — the lake,” Eyring said. “It’s a shame they let that go.”
Lorain County Auditor Craig Snodgrass said property values set by the auditor went down 9.6 percent in the most recent re-evaluation, compared to the countywide average of a 7.9 percent reduction. But some Brentwood residents argue the drop in valuation was far greater than 9.6 percent.
The auditor’s office focused on factors such as home size and did not take into account the loss of the lake, Snodgrass said.
“We’re reappraising property — we’re not appraising the lake,” Snodgrass said. In the end, a home’s value is “whatever a willing seller and willing buyer will agree on.”
One of the neighborhood leaders, Andy Teiberis, said the impact for the 33 homes in Brentwood that fronted the lake was much greater than the 9.6 percent property value reduction cited by Snodgrass.
“I requested a 20 percent reduction and got it,” he said.
Teiberis said he and his late wife used to sit out and enjoy the beauty of the neighborhood when there was still a lake.
After the dam was breached, they joked, “It was Hilton Head and the tide’s out.”
“Now the tide’s out 24 hours a day,” Teiberis said.
Teiberis and fellow neighborhood leaders Karen Johnson and Dr. Richard Bokanyi said in addition to concerns about the loss of value to their homes, there are other problems they face as a result of the lake being allowed to drain.
Johnson said she has difficulty breathing because of noxious weeds, and the mosquito problem is horrendous.
“It felt like fire in my lungs,” Johnson said. “And all day long there are mosquitoes — not just in the evening.”
Vermin even get into the homes, Johnson said.
She said her husband captured a field mouse under a plastic salad container — just in time to illustrate the problem for a two-hour presentation she made to the Lorain County commissioners.
During a visit from a reporter a few weeks ago, a muskrat scurried across a yard in broad daylight, disappearing into the vegetation. Deer also have taken advantage of the swamp and are eating peoples’ flowers and young vegetables, neighbors said.
Bokanyi, a retired veterinarian, sent registered letters to public officials asking them to resolve health issues involving mosquitoes, rats and other vermin.
His concern, he argued, was West Nile virus and rabies.
He got just one reply, from the Ohio Department of Health, which indicated that it would not get involved because the lake is private property.
The parcel containing the drained lake is owned by Spitzer Hardware and Supply Inc., according to Snodgrass.
Representatives of Spitzer, including attorney Anthony Giardini and property manager Cathy Schuster, did not return repeated calls for comment over a matter of weeks. Alan Spitzer, chairman and chief executive officer of Spitzer Management Inc., declined to speak to a reporter who visited his Elyria office.
While company officials were unavailable, Giardini argued in court documents that the lake is actually owned by the Brentwood Lake Village Homeowners’ Association through the legal claim of adverse possession because homeowners had been using the lake for decades.
Dueling lawsuits were resolved when parties agreed that Spitzer, Lorain County and Carlisle Township would share the cost of a controlled breach of the dam.
Residents said they worry the problem never will be addressed.
County Commissioner Lori Kokoski said the situation is regrettable, but “nobody wants the responsibility.”
County Commissioner Tom Williams said he approached the Lorain County Metro Parks for help and a possible takeover but was told that the lake was private property without public access.
Metro Parks Director James Ziemnik said the district would have to examine the suitability of the property for a Metro Park even if the property was deeded over and opened to the public. There would have to be sufficient parking and access to the public, he said.
“We’re charged with being responsible to every taxpayer,” Ziemnik said.
Kokoski said residents of Brentwood Lake may seek help like anyone else for storm water relief made possible through a new charge on property tax bills. But Bokanyi said he asked about whether money for storm water control could be allocated to Brentwood, but he did not receive much encouragement.
Bokanyi said building a new retention basin for storm water seems ridiculous, adding, “We had the best retention — the lake.”
“Somebody is going to have to get West Nile virus and die or get very, very sick, and the Health Department and storm water people will pay attention,” Bokanyi said.
Resident Sarah Overs said she would like public officials to mow the weeds in the lake bed — and charge the cost to Spitzer Hardware.
“If I would keep my yard like that lake, they’d write me up,” she said.
Overs said she had to redo two bathrooms in her home at 41 Lakeview after the lake was drained because of settling of the land, which affected the plumbing.
“This is a house I wanted from childhood,” Overs said. “The house of enchantment has turned into the house on Elm Street.”
Carlisle Township Trustee Berry Taylor said the township is concerned about the situation and will work on surveying residents for a possible solution this summer.
Taylor said the township will not do any cleanup of weeds because it only cuts grass in the front yards of residential properties.
Taylor suggested that the property owners on the lake consider agreeing to extend their property lines to the middle of the lake bed, giving them control over the property now taken over by weeds.
He said Bokanyi, the veterinarian, has made a very nice vegetable garden after reclaiming some of the land that used to be under water.
Ideally, the lake property should be mowed several times a summer, said Karl Schneider, natural resources coordinator for the Lorain County Soil and Water Conservation District.
“It’s a perfect breeding ground for snakes, rats and mice,” Schneider said.
He likes the idea of residents taking responsibility for the extra land that used to be the lake bed, although the first time it is mowed the work will be “horrendous.”
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.