When Coventry Township trustee Robert A. Saffian looks at the parched strip of land near the community’s clock tower, he sees a bustling spot for music and food and events.
In his vision, high school bands play concerts and residents compete in chili cook-offs while a gentle breeze blows inland from the Portage Lakes.
Set on the water’s edge in the township’s downtown, the site was created when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources rebuilt sections of the leaking East Reservoir dam along Portage Lakes Drive.
The section he is touring has a few tufts of grass dotting on an otherwise bare dirt landscape. As he shows the property, a resident walks by.
“Are you guys going to fix this grass?” she asks.
Saffian explains to her that it’s currently ODNR’s responsibility, that the agency will be improving and maintaining it.
But if Saffian and the township’s other two trustees get their way, that would change.
The site is the top of the dam ODNR has rebuilt, Saffian explains. This and other sections of embankment are owned by the state agency, but the land has no clear use and is lacking in upkeep and maintenance.
The talks between township trustees and ODNR are aimed at changing all that by placing the acres of prime waterfront property under Coventry’s control.
“We’re talking to them in a very positive manner,” Saffian said, and the agency has been receptive to township ideas.
But there will be some limitations if a 99-year lease agreement is reached, Saffian and trustee Eddie Diebold said.
The most significant, perhaps, is that no permanent structure and none with a foundation could be built on the land.
That’s not a problem, the two men agree. No permanent structures will be needed for what they intend.
Saffian said he mentioned the township’s ideas for using the land to Ohio Sen. Vernon Sykes when they talked at a gathering earlier this summer. The Akron Democrat spoke with ODNR officials, and a dialogue between the township and agency began in early July.
The area is made up of eight separate parcels and strips of land that don't yet have a parcel number — all of them adjacent to Portage Lakes Drive. By Saffian’s calculations, the sections total about 4.5 acres.
Saffian calls the parcels “one potential segmented park.”
A walkway is one way to link the parcels, Diebold said.
“We would like to connect the clock tower to South Main Street with a walking path,” Diebold said. “This is our downtown. This will help pull people into Coventry Township to support our businesses.”
The next step, Saffian said, is another meeting with ODNR officials. When the agency is done putting the final touches on the embankments, the township would lease the properties and maintain them for public use.
Trustee Richard Kutuchief said Thursday that the township is the “heart” of the Portage Lakes and the land presents opportunities for the township.
“There is a wide variety of potential depending on how you define it,” he said. “Our goal would be to have the design utility and the ability to maintain control of [it].”
Saffian said the end product may generate some funds for the township but the property “is not going to be a profit center.”
“This is going to be a smile center,” he said.
Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or emailed at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconjourna.