BRIMFIELD Twp.: Newell Rubbermaid has a new 800,000-square-foot distribution facility in an industrial park in Brimfield Township to warehouse and ship food-storage products, home organization totes and refuse holders. At any one time, more than 11 million pieces of inventory can be stored, many of which are manufactured not far away in Mogadore.
The facility opened late last year and is active 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And that has made neighbors of the site angry.
There are complaints about truck noise — especially in the middle of the night. A nearby resident says the glow from the building is so bright that the family doesn’t need to turn lights on in their bedroom at night.
“We can stand in the house without our lights on and look at words on a piece of paper,” said Tony Masiella, a retired telephone worker who built his house in the early 1970s when he and his wife, Janet, were in their 20s.
The side of the Rubbermaid building, with a line of loading docks, faces the Masiellas’ backyard.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Portage County Health Department have become involved at the new building located on Progress Boulevard that employs 150. The health department recently informed neighbor Preston Cutright not to use his well because an aquifer was hit during construction, contaminating his water.
Several lawsuits have been filed, beginning with two cases started last year against officials in Brimfield and Tallmadge. The suits charge that officials didn’t follow proper rezoning laws for the parcel, which straddles Summit and Portage counties. The distribution center is on Brimfield land, but part of the open land is in Tallmadge.
A new suit filed in April by the Masiellas alleges that an estate that originally sold the land violated deed restrictions, allowing construction on land that was promised to be a park. The suit says nearby home values are falling.
The latest lawsuit was filed on June 4 by seven neighbors of the plant, who have sued Rubbermaid, InSite Realty and the company that bought the property from InSite. The residents say the distribution center is a nuisance, including light, noise and air pollution and disturbs the enjoyment of the plaintiffs’ homes. The lawsuit has been filed in Summit County on behalf of both Summit and Portage county residents. F. Benjamin Riek III, lawyer for the group, said it’s likely the lawsuit will be moved to federal court since the defendants are all out of state.
Attorneys and officials for Brimfield and Tallmadge, InSite, Rubbermaid and the Paul L. Rhoades Jr. Trust, naming John Rhoades as trustee, all declined comment on the lawsuits, saying they could not discuss pending litigation. Attorneys for the Rhoades estate are asking for dismissal of the lawsuit, saying the allegations are untrue and that 20-some years have passed if there is an alleged breach of contract and it is outside the statute of limitations.
The Masiellas in late May amended the lawsuit to claim that rezoning the land created a permanent nuisance that has damaged their property and will continue to do so in the future.
While there have been hours of phone calls and many emails exchanged among the parties over the concerns of Cutright and Masiella, one thing that has not happened is a face-to-face meeting between the angry neighbors and Rubbermaid or the developer of the property, InSite Realty. Newell Rubbermaid spokeswoman Connie Bryant said the company is open to any meetings, though it has not received any invitations.
“While the nature of our business requires that this facility operate 24/7, we remain committed to minimizing the impact to local neighbors, the community and the environment,” Bryant said in a prepared statement.
The company says it positioned the building as far south as possible, including loading docks that are away from neighbors. It says land banks along the perimeter were built to serve as a barrier to noise and light. Rubbermaid also says rows of planted trees will grow and serve as additional buffers.
In a three-page statement, the attorney for InSite Realty, Robin Rash, outlined how the developer has tried to alleviate neighbor concerns. InSite developed the property and sold it in January, but has been working “to the extent that we have been able to ameliorate problems,” said Rash.
But the neighbors say it’s not enough.
Brimfield Township Trustee Chair Mike Kostensky and Trustee Chick Sprague say they are working on solving the concerns.
“I feel bad for all those people, but there’s only so much you can do,” said Kostensky. “I hate seeing all of these lawsuits. I’m trying to get it resolved.”
Kostensky and Sprague say they don’t think the tree and land buffers offered by InSite are enough to block noise and sound.
Sprague said not all neighbors are complaining, but he understands the concerns. He said the concerns need to be balanced with the benefits of having Rubbermaid’s business that is good for the township.
Brimfield zoning inspector Dick Messner declined comment.
Tony and Janet Masiella bought their lot on Estes Drive next to the Rhoades dairy farm in 1972, because the then-newlywed couple was looking for a place to raise their family.
“The appeal was wide-open land,” said Tony Masiella. “It was out in the country, yet right down the road from the Chapel Hill area.”
Now, the Masiellas’ street of 14 homes has the large distribution center as part of its view.
The Masiellas say a berm built by the developer and trees that are supposed to cover 75 percent of their view in two years are inadequate. The Masiellas also asked for shields recently placed on the building lights to be turned in a different direction. InSite declined, saying it believed it would make the lighting into their house more intense.
InSite says it has installed more trees in the Masiellas’ yard and that Tony Masiella agreed to the installation. Masiella said he has been told by his lawyer that he signed that document under duress and without understanding there would be no more trees planted.
Around a corner, Cutright, a retired builder, bought his home on Howe Avenue last July. Cutright said he knew a distribution center would be built on the land behind his house.
“I have no beef with them building there. I have a beef with how they did it,” said Cutright.
Cutright says the building did not have proper permits. InSite disputes that charge.
Cutright’s complaints are about noise and muddy water when it rains.
Cutright says he takes noise level readings at 2:30 a.m. when he is awakened by trucks backing into loading docks or loud echoes when trailers hit concrete docks.
Portage County Health Commissioner DuWayne Porter said he is not aware of any laws that can be cited for excessive noise. Cutright says he wants some type of barrier — not trees — constructed to block the sound.
“You can only be disturbed of your sleep so long until it could affect your health,” Cutright said.
Township trustees recently hired an architect/engineer to look at zoning and suggest where more trees might be planted. A report suggested more trees near Cutright’s property, but not the Masiellas’ street.
Porter’s agency recently told Cutright that he must abandon his well because of aquifer contamination. Porter said it will be Cutright’s responsibility to replace the well, but the health department would testify if civil action is taken.
Cutright insists the liability is with InSite and Rubbermaid and other contractors and wants his well replaced.
“We have spent literally hundreds of hours working with Mr. Cutright, well consultants and OEPA (Ohio EPA) dealing with this allegation and we do not believe it to be true,” said InSite in its statement.
The Ohio EPA has been working the Cutright case since last fall and has issued four notices of violations and several letters to InSite, said spokesman Mike Settles.
The issue concerns what are called sedimentation ponds installed by InSite on the property. When the work crews dug for the ponds, they affected a shallow aquifer, which has affected Cutright’s well, said Settles. The Ohio EPA does not have jurisdiction over residential wells, but can and has instructed InSite to install clay liners to cut off the water to the aquifer.
InSite, in its statement, said it has spent more than $200,000 to install the liners. The Ohio EPA is still not satisfied with the liners and is in negotiations with InSite, Settles said.
While the lawsuits make their way through the court system and other parties try to come to some agreement, Janet Masiella said she and her husband assume the problems won’t be resolved outside of the legal system.
“The bottom line is they are not good neighbors,” she said.
InSite and Newell Rubbermaid disagree.
“Although we no longer own the facility, we feel we have gone above and beyond in trying to address the issues raised by the neighbors,” said InSite in its statement. “We have spent many hours with both Mr. Cutright and Mr. Masiella to understand their issues and respond appropriately. We know Newell Rubbermaid is equally committed to being a good neighbor and member of the community.”
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.