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Norwalk hoping to turn old houses into park

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:06 PM

Council members learned about 100 homes in Norwalk need work to meet mandates on storm water from the Environmental Protection Agency and a new city park might be possible if an anonymous donor agrees to buy two homes vacant on Elm Street since the June 2006 flood.

Mayor Sue Lesch said letters are going out to property owners if storm water from their property enters the sanitary sewer system against EPA standards. She said the city and Huron County will also have to do some work to meet the standards.

"The vast majority are very simple fixes," she said, but some homeowners might have to invest about $500 or more. "We're trying to sort out all the problems now."

Lesch said the city's long-term plan approved by the EPA requires the changes to keep storm water from entering the city's sanitary sewer system.

The mayor said Aaron Osborne, of the city's street department, will meet with individual homeowners to determine what improvements each property needs.

Lesch also had both good news and bad news for council about a possible park on Elm Street. The city had applied for a grant to purchase three homes flooded in June 2006, tear the homes down and prepare the site for a new city park. An anonymous donor had offered to pay for equipment for the park.

The bad news is the grant was denied. The good news is that owners of two of the homes 48 and 50 E. Elm St. have not been able to move back in and are willing to sell the properties.

Lesch told council the anonymous donor might be willing to pay for the property instead of equipment if the city was willing to handle the cost of equipment. Council gave Lesch a green light to try to work out a deal.

"All I have is a request to send him a proposal to review," Lesch said. "I really feel if this gentleman is willing to purchase property, we have to be willing to put in a park." The anonymous donor grew up in Norwalk, but does not live in the city now.

Lesch told council the project is only an idea at this point.

"It is all pretty vague right now," she said, adding the projected cost to the city of playground equipment and a shelter is $80,000. Lesch said the idea of a skating pond at the site has also been mentioned.

The city already has $61,000 in a special fund earmarked for parks.

Gary McGinn, who owns the house at 48 E. Elm St., said he hopes a deal can be made.

"We're looking for any alternatives," he said, because his family has not been able to renovate the home after extensive damage from the flood.

Margaret Miller lived at 50 E. Elm St. and she is also hoping to sell the property for a park. Fred Doubek, her cousin, said water filled the basement and hit the two-foot mark on the first floor.

Miller is 90 so Doubek has helped her with the property. He said he gutted the house in hopes of rebuilding, but sump pumps run constantly with every rain so he doesn't believe the site is habitable.

"We don't know what to do," Doubek said. "All we're asking for is a fair deal."

Lesch didn't know property valuations for the two homes.

Lesch said she wouldn't say she is optimistic about the possible park, but she is willing to try to work things out.

"He wanted to make a gift to the city in honor of his family," she said of the donor. "Now I have council's permission to pursue that."

Council member Chris Mushett reminded council that the city would also have to handle the cost of razing the empty houses and preparing the property for a park. Council member Skip Wilde said the city could ask civic organizations for help with those expenses.

In other business, council:

** Set a meeting of the safety committee for 7 p.m. Tuesday to discuss a new fire station. Lesch said she wants to "begin to set a plan in place." Staffing needs will be one of the topics discussed at the open meeting.

** Passed a resolution thanking Tera Thornhill for her service on council. When Mushett gave Thornhill the proclamation and her nameplates, he said she would be expected to turn them in again if she ever served on council in the future.

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