Council to rule on mayor's Manor House veto

by Eric Marotta and Jeff Saunders Editor and reporter Published:

Macedonia -- The ultimate fate of the Manor House in Longwood Park may be decided this week, when Council is scheduled to vote on Mayor Don Kuchta's veto of an ordinance granting the Longwood Manor Historical Society 18 months to come up with a plan to renovate the building.

Council approved the ordinance 5 to 1 on Feb. 14 "for the purposes of making a restoration assessment and thereafter the creation of architectural plans and thereafter restoration of the building."

Councilor Mike Miller voted against the ordinance.

If the veto is overruled at Council's Feb. 28 meeting, the society would have until Aug. 31, 2014, to try and preserve the Manor House.

If Council supports the veto, the society's permit will expire Feb. 28 and the city will have to decide whether to demolish the condemned building. Under the city's charter, the vote of at least four Council members is needed to override a veto.

Kuchta, who claims he has authority over the city-owned structure, says he has the funds available to demolish building, which was condemned in 2007.

LMHS President John Cassmer said Feb. 22 that "I'm just trying to ask that Councilors support [the extension]."

"There's nothing to gain by tearing it down," he said. "We're not taking anything away from streets or anything. We're doing it ourselves."

But three Council members who voted for the extension Feb. 14 -- Council President Ken Martin and Councilors Shane Barker, and Dave Engle -- said at Council's Feb. 21 work session they may reconsider their decision.

Councilor Rita Darrow told the News Leader that if it comes up for a vote, she intends to stand by her previous vote in favor of the Manor House.

"I don't mind them having the extension," she said. "If it comes to that, I'm going to vote the way I did."

Barker and Engle, however, said they are uncertain what they will do.

"I don't know yet. I have to think about it," said Engle.

"I haven't made up my mind, yet," said Barker. "I'm debating it internally."

Martin said he supports the extension, but after listening to a presentation by Kuchta, Feb. 21, questioned whether Council has any say in the matter.

"I'm not even sure if City Council has authority to make a decision," said Martin.

In the work session, Kuchta cited an October 2001 written opinion by Law Director Joseph Diemert. In the opinion, Diemert said "direction, control and supervision" of the Manor House is the mayor's responsibility under the city's charter.

"I'm ready to deal with it, I'm ready to take it over," said Kuchta.

Kuchta also said that the city has secured funding for demolition of the Manor House.

Finance Director Scott Svab said that the funding is in the form of a matching grant from the Summit County Fiscal Office that will pay half the costs, up to $19,500. Building Commissioner Mike Hlad said he is uncertain of the total demolition cost, but believes it would be within $40,000.

In a Feb. 18 letter to Council, Kuchta offered several reasons for his veto, including a statement that the society has had "many years of opportunity to accomplish some form of restoration or salvaging of the Manor House, without success."

He added the structure has been condemned and is an "attractive nuisance" in that it could attract trespassers who could be harmed while inside the building, or endanger safety forces "in the event of a fire or break-in."

Cassmer said the LMHS has made progress. Last year, a vertical support beam and broken windows were replaced and the LMHS is forming a board of directors for the first time.

Cassmer said the LMHS is seeking cash donations and contractors willing to donate additional services at no cost or reduced costs. He said one "anonymous donor" has pledged $5,000 to help with roof repairs, a top priority.

Cassmer said the LMHS also disputes the city's estimated total repair costs of $400,000 to $600,000. Last year, based on quotes from various contractors, said Cassmer, costs were estimated at about $78,000.

"We've definitely made progress on it," he said.

Former Mayor William Frew Long bequeathed his home and most of his estate, which is now the nearly 300-acre Longwood Park, to the city when he died in 1984. The society was first granted permission to renovate the building in 2002, but could not complete the work. The city condemned the building in 2007 for numerous building code violations, but Council granted LMHS a one-year permit to continue its efforts in February 2012.

In his veto, Kuchta also said Council's extension is a violation of the city charter in that it allegedly ignores his responsibility for public safety, as well as the building commissioner's condemnation of the building. Kuchta and Diemert have maintained since 2007 that the city is in violation of its own ordinances which require either demolition or at least a restoration plan to be in place within six months of a building's condemnation.

Email: jsaunders@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9432

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