Hiram – After lengthy delays since mid-November, Portage County Commissioners finally held hearings to consider the annexation of approximately139 acres from Hiram Township to Hiram Village last week. The proposed annexation would pave the way for private developers to build retirement housing on the parcel of land originally set aside for Hiram College expansion.
Hiram College and Village Builders of Hiram originally petitioned to annex land adjacent to the village’s north border, for phased construction of approximately 200 residential units for retirees on 90 acres north of the Hiram College campus. The college expects to set aside 50 acres in part of the Silver Creek Watershed as a conservation area.
A surprise awaited those attending Monday’s opening session, according to various reliable sources. Ed Wurm, a partner with Mike Maschek Sr. in Village Builders of Hiram Inc., announced their firm is withdrawing as developer of the construction project. The decision reportedly is due to economic issues unrelated to the long and contentious annexation battle.
Wurm said the 90 acres Hiram Builders purchased from Hiram College for development would revert back to the college, as stipulated in the purchase agreement. Hiram College President Tom Chema indicated that Village Builder’s pullout will not impede the project’s progress, saying he expects no difficulty in finding another builder for the 55-and-older independent and assisted living development.
Following Monday’s testimony, ensuing hearings were postponed for two days, due to Commissioner Maureen Frederick’s battle with the flu. Consequently, conflicts arose in scheduling expert witnesses and testifying attorneys. So, although hearings resumed on Thursday, further hearings now have been extended nine additional days, through March 18. Commissioners will deliver a decision on the annexation request within 30 days after overall hearings conclude.
Last November, two of three commissioners — Chuck Keiper and Chris Smeiles — cited potential conflicts of interest for being unable to participate in the hearings. Consequently, hearings were postponed until late January, when newly-elected Commissioner Tommie Jo Marsilio would be in office and could preside over the hearings with Frederick (Commissioner Chris Smiles continued to recuse himself.) A majority of the three commissioners is needed for any vote.
Marsilio – a Republican - replaces Democrat Keiper, who served on the board since 1993. Democrat Maureen Frederick has been a commissioner since 2003. Democrat Smeiles is the senior commissioner, having taken office in 1989.
The hearings were reset for January 24-26 at the Portage County Administration Building in Ravenna, with three sides represented: the petitioners for the annexation, the village and the township.
But they were cancelled January 25 and 26 after a full day of testimony January 24, due to Frederick’s illness. They resumed January 27 with testimony from Hiram Mayor Louis Bertrand, Police Chief Mark Lombardi and Hiram Village Administrator Robert Wood.