Conservation easement eyed as buffer

SALEM – The NRP Group intends to establish a conservation easement on the western half of a 67.7-acre parcel it’s planning to purchase on East Pershing Street, Butcher Road and Cunningham Road for a housing development.

A conservation easement would permanently prevent any construction of any kind from happening on the 32 acres where a wetlands and creek is located, just to the west of the vacant land where NRP wants to build apartments and eventually single-family homes.

That’s the gist of an agreement handed to Salem Mayor John Berlin by NRP Group Developer Mary Hada during an informal meeting Thursday night regarding the Cleveland company’s plans.

Hada said once the company owns the land, which it has an option to purchase, they’ll work with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy on the conservation easement.

“They want to preserve as much land as they can,” she said regarding the non-profit group.

Hada explained a conservation easement is a legal document and stays with the land even if it ends up sold to someone else. A conservation easement would not affect the zoning. She also said high tension power lines on the property would not be located on the land to be preserved.

The land in question is part of the 14.3 acres about 400 feet east of the deadends of Oak Street, Tanglewood, Kennedy and Edgewood drives the city is considering rezoning from RA Multiple Family to RS-2 Single Family Residential as a buffer zone for residents concerned about apartments being built near their properties.

NRP asked the city to rezone 6.9 acres of the land just south of the East Pershing Street extension to Butcher Road, from C-2 General Commercial to RA Multiple Family, because that’s where they want to start Phase I, an $18 million 120-unit walk-up apartment complex.

Both zoning questions remain pending after the Planning Commission recommended them and council agreed to form an ordinance for the changes. The next step is for the Planning Commission to meet regarding the ordinance for the rezoning, then send the question back to city council for a decision.

Keith McClintock, vice president of conservation for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy,

addressed the meeting via speaker phone in the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce conference room.

Other attendees included all city council members except for K. Bret Apple, council President Mickey Cope Weaver, some Planning Commission members, including Mayor John Berlin, city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst, Barb Loudon and John Panezott, chamber Executive Director Audrey Null and a few concerned citizens.

Hada said NRP would probably never be building in the wetlands area, but voluntarily decided to look into a way to preserve and protect the land. The plan is for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy to apply for Clean Ohio conservation funds to purchase the land from NRP once NRP receives the state tax credits it’s trying to get and sell to raise the money to purchase the land from its current owner.

The application for the tax credits is due Feb. 21 and they should find out if they got them by June 12. She said if they don’t get them, they’ll evaluate the situation and could likely resubmit an application. Since they’ll be in the rural category, she said they have a better chance of receiving the funding.

She estimated it would take six to nine months from June to sell the tax credits and get the land purchased, then they could arrange for the conservation easement. McClintock said the easement process could take a month to multiple months or a year, but said the process in this case would likely move quickly. He said they have a good chance to secure the Clean Ohio funding since there were no applications filed last year in the district covering Columbiana County.

Hada said since NRP is planning to invest $750,000 to purchase the property, they would prefer to sell the land to be conserved to the conservancy so they can recoup some of their money, but even if the conservancy doesn’t buy the property, they’re still conserving the 32 acres through them.

McClintock said the goal is to preserve the wetlands and stream and leave the land in its natural state. He said the agreement can be crafted to allow for park use or walking trails if desired or just left in its current state. He said the conservancy will visit the site on an annual basis to make sure no one has done any type of construction in violation of the easement.

Berlin asked whether the city could secure an easement for water and sewer lines and cross the conservation easement. McClintock said the agreement could be drafted to cover that, with the idea that the lines hug the western boundary of the conservation easement.

Local realtor Harry Hofmeister commented that the land would no longer be part of the city tax base, once it’s owned by the conservancy, which McClintock confirmed, saying they would file for tax exemption.

Councilman Dave Nestic said the trade-off would be the “$50 million worth of development going on the other side.”

In a related matter, Hada said NRP will want to use a Tax Increment Financing plan to help pay for the infrastructure they’ll need for the housing development, including a lift station for wastewater, but the city will have to meet certain parameters for that to happen since TIFs only apply to commercial property.

One of the parameters would be an adopted housing plan, referring to the comprehensive plan for development completed by the chamber several years ago, but never adopted by city council. Nestic said they’ll gave to see if just the portion regarding housing can be adopted and not the whole plan.

Mary Ann Greier can be reached at