Conservation group seeks to preserve 45 acres in Akron's Merriman Valley as parkland

Western Reserve Land Conservancy offers to pay $410,000 to buy land from city

Phil Keren
Akron Beacon Journal
Nate Holland of PreserveTheValley.com hands out a flyer during a protest of The Riverwoods Development and The Theiss Development in the valley in Akron in November 2020.  Members of this group are in favor of a proposal offered by Western Reserve Land Conservancy to preserve 45 acres of land at Theiss and Hardy roads.  [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

One organization has submitted a proposal to conserve 45 acres of land on Theiss Road in the Merriman Valley as parkland.

Western Reserve Land Conservancy has offered to purchase the land at the corner of Theiss and Hardy roads from the city for $410,000.

"The Land Conservancy believes the Theiss Road property offers too much natural resource value and too great an infrastructure cost for the city of Akron to proceed with development," wrote Isaac Robb, vice president of planning and urban projects for Western Reserve Land Conservancy, in a March 30 letter to the city.

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Western Reserve Land Conservancy is a nonprofit organization founded in 2006 to provide people with "essential natural assets through land conservation and restoration," according to its proposal.

City administrators are expected to review Western Reserve Land Conservancy's proposal and five residential development plans that were submitted last year and select a proposal for presentation to the city planning commission and Akron City Council for approval.

James Hardy, the city's deputy mayor for integrated development, said there is "no firm timeline on when or if a decision will be made on any of the Theiss Road property proposals."

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Instead of only taking offers to develop houses on land at the corner of Theiss and Hardy roads, Mayor Dan Horrigan’s Office of Integrated Development solicited proposals for sale of the land for conservation purposes. The deadline to submit a proposal was March 31.

The conservancy wants to use public funding and  donations to raise money to purchase the Theiss Road land and "place it under permanent protection through conservation restrictions or a conservation easement," according to its proposal.

After acquiring the property, the group intends to transfer ownership and maintenance of the land to Summit Metro Parks through a donation. The conservancy wants the parcel to be used for passive recreation and light use trails. Potential uses listed in the proposal include hiking, nature observation, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, disc golf and horseback riding. Pavilions, small foot-print playgrounds and stationary park structures could also be built on the land.

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The conservancy said it would work with Summit Metro Parks to develop a long-term vision for the property. The land is close to Hampton Hills Metro Park, Sand Run Metro Park, O'Neil Woods Metro Park and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park system. Metro Parks officials have already said they are willing to lead tours of the land and would likely include the property in their archery program for deer.

The conservancy said it plans to involve minority populations and communities of color in developing a vision for the property.

The conservancy is proposing to spend a total of $424,100, with $410,000 earmarked to buy the land, $5,400 for title review and closing costs, $3,200 for appraisals and $5,500 for natural resource assessments.

City decided to accept conservation offers

The city is proposing to sell the land for at least $361,520 and had hoped to increase revenue through its development.

A residential development plan, which the city sought proposals for in August 2020, required that at least 13.5 acres be maintained as open space.

Five developers — Petros Development Group LLC, Cascade Valley LLC, Lockhart Development, Frontier Land Group and W@HH Partners — have submitted plans to build between 65 and 110 detached single-family homes worth tens of millions of dollars in total. The new subdivision would be on land the city says was used as a farm until 1970, has not been a forest for at least 90 years, and is now mostly occupied by invasive plant species.

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The city decided in December 2020 to accept conservation proposals after residents and business owners from Highland Square to Cuyahoga Falls, and the Merriman Valley in between, gathered on sidewalks with signs, chanted "Save the Woods" and organized an online petition. Their efforts are organized at www.preservethevalley.com, a website they launched to advocate for a moratorium on more homes and apartments near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, at least until a long-term development strategy is in place.

Trio of groups support the proposal

The land's proximity to Summit Metro Parks' and Cuyahoga Valley National Park's assets, an anticipated increased use of parks, and "strong public support" for conserving the property are reasons the Western Reserve Land Conservancy cites on why it favors conservation.

"Developing this valuable Akron greenfield into housing would be a tremendous loss of natural assets — which currently provide wildlife habitat, remove air pollution, manage stormwater, and much more — that could never be undone," the proposal stated.

The conservancy's proposal includes letters of support from Summit Metro Parks, the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) and the Preserve the Valley Citizen Action Group.

"The Merriman Valley is a special part of the city of Akron with numerous outdoor recreation opportunities that are critical to its character and vibrancy…Summit Metro Parks urges the city to choose conservation for Theiss Road in order to maintain these resources for future generations to enjoy," wrote Mike Johnson, chief of conservation for Summit Metro Parks.

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Deb Yandala, chief executive officer for the Conservancy for CVNP, echoed Johnson's sentiments.

"We hope the city of Akron will respond favorably to Western Reserve Land Conservancy's bid to preserve the property in perpetuity," Yandala wrote. "The health of our region's ecosystems and communities depends upon it."

Preserve the Valley officials said they've heard from many residents who want to see the land conserved rather than developed. An online petition started in October 2020 has garnered nearly 12,000 signatures from people locally and nationally.

"We believe that the voices of these citizens should be heard and that this Akron greenspace deserves conservation protection both now and for the future," Preserve the Valley representatives wrote.

Beacon Journal reporters Eric Marotta and Doug Livingston contributed to this report. Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@thebeaconjournal.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.