Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
By Janie Southard
Zoning changed to allow major development
Restaurants, businesses, houses planned for Grand Lake
  ST. MARYS - After a heated debate and three votes, St. Marys Township trustees approved zoning changes enabling a new development at the south end of Grand Lake that would include a condominium hotel, two restaurants, retail shops and various residential units.
The properties involved are two parcels of about 50 acres each on either side of Schroeder Road at the southeast end of the lake. The properties were variously zoned residential, agricultural and commercial, with owners Steve Klosterman, Ronald and Carmelita Spitler and Gary Liette Farms wanting a C-2 zoning throughout. St. Marys Township Zoning Board already approved the change.
At the township meeting Tuesday, trustees Allen Imwalle and Chad Elshoff both voted "no" on trustee Robert Wilker's motion to approve the C-2 zoning. They questioned why PUD (planned unit development) zoning had not been requested. As explained at the meeting by Auglaize County Prosecuting Attorney Ed Pierce, the difference in the two zoning classifications centers on project control.
In a nutshell, PUD would give trustees more administrative power at various stages of development and would require additional plans along the way from the developer. Elshoff explained his concern is to protect current and future residents of the area.
"I don't want the guy who buys the first cottage sitting back there with no sewer, roads and so forth because you have run out of money," he said.
Imwalle agreed and several times asked Sheila Hirschfeld of Coldwell Banker South Shore, who is brokering the deal, if she could give a 100 percent guarantee of financial backing. She did not, but explained the financing of the project.
"Because of the economic times and wanting to provide employment, the builder and contractors, who are already ready to begin working, agreed to be paid when the units are sold," she said, later adding prices for the residential units range from $100,000 to $200,000.
After the 2-1 vote against the zoning, a lengthy period of very heated reproach ensued from Hirschfeld and her husband, Craig, who called the trustees "crazy" and "stupid." One woman in the audience said she'd put "a big pig farm on her property." Klosterman stomped out of the meeting saying the trustees were costing the area millions, they didn't know what they were doing and he did not have to "put up with this."
As the invectives continued, Pierce counseled with Imwalle in the hallway. The outcome was that, under Ohio law, the nay vote could be reconsidered if any one of the majority voters requested so. Such a motion was proposed and unanimously approved. Again Imwalle and Elshoff questioned the financing and intent of the development.
A calmer Sheila Hirschfeld explained financing and provided an overall look at the project.  
The plan is for two developments - Blue Heron Bay to the east of Schroeder Road and Grand Lake Yacht Club to the west. The two will be under the same paid-management umbrella and consist of 250 dwellings including a condominium hotel, leased condominiums that will be owner-occupied, condominium cottages, two restaurants, swimming pool, retail shops, channel access - "a family resort," she called it. She added that the amenities will be members only.
"There will be no trailers in the parking lot," she said.
Landscaping plans call for a large, densely planted mound serving as a noise buffer as well as an obstruction to the parking lot view to the west of the yacht club.
Two votes were then held to approve C-2 zoning for each development - Blue Heron and the yacht club - and both passed unanimously.
According to Jeff Squires, attorney for the applicants (Klosterman, Hirschfeld, etc.), said anyone can get up a petition for referendum placing the issue before voters in November if the Aug. 20 deadline at the county election board can be met. Only residents of St. Marys Township are eligible to sign the petition. "Otherwise the zoning change stands," he said.
Squires said this is a multi-year project, with work to be done in phases.
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