Pictured at the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation's January meeting are (l-r) board members Terry Britton and Randy Mustard; environmental consultant Matt Wagner; land bank coordinator Mackenzie Edison; citizen Tim Atkinson; board member Lauren Walker; and attorney Todd Book. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured at the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation's January meeting are (l-r) board members Terry Britton and Randy Mustard; environmental consultant Matt Wagner; land bank coordinator Mackenzie Edison; citizen Tim Atkinson; board member Lauren Walker; and attorney Todd Book. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
After five months of correspondence between the Village of Greenfield and the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation, the county’s land bank board agreed Thursday to pay $50,000 toward the demolition of the former Elliott Hotel building in Greenfield.

According to the land bank board’s attorney Todd Book, what he described as a “cost sharing agreement” has been reached between the parties, for the HCLRC to contribute $50,000 — approximately half of the village’s current estimate — toward the demolition costs, payable to the contractor.

“We've been in discussions with representatives from Greenfield about how best to go forward with the Elliott Hotel,” Book said. “[There are] lots of issues around the history of this and our land bank’s involvement. This is an opportunity, I think, for the land bank to really step up and show their value to the community and be part of fixing the problems.

“The Elliott Hotel is an eyesore. It's a problem in Greenfield, it needs to be cleaned up, and part of this discussion is how can we be helpful.”

As previously reported, the hotel building partially collapsed more than a year ago, in August 2021. Three land bank projects — the East Monroe Mill ($71,047), the Rocky Fork Truck Stop ($122,784) and the former Elliott Hotel in Greenfield ($19,718) — all received funding this year in the first round of the state’s Brownfield Remediation Grant program. Separate from the land bank, the Village of Greenfield also received $300,000 for assessments for the former site of a power plant.

In an email and hard-copy letter submitted by Greenfield City Manager Todd Wilkin to the HCLRC in August, the city manager expressed concerns that the hotel project was “never submitted for demolition dollars as agreed upon.”

In a letter dated Nov. 1 and addressed to the land bank board, Wilkin revisited the issue that the Elliott Hotel project “was never submitted for demolition dollars as agreed upon.” Wilkin said in the letter that the village’s quotes for the hotel demolition were $50,000 in January — which the village ultimately did not award due to believing “HCLRC would secure the necessary demolition dollars,” despite already having the funds appropriated — and then $80,000 in August.

“The cost to the Village has increased by $30,000,” Wilkin wrote. “This is due to HCLRC failure to comply with the terms of the signed MOU.

“Due to this failure, the Village of Greenfield is formally requesting that the HCLRC help assist with the costs for the demolition.”

That request for funding, as well as background on the decision-making process for the Elliott Hotel and the village’s choice to independently apply for Brownfield funds for the unrelated power plant project, were addressed in a heated exchange between Wilkin and the HCLRC board during the land bank board meeting Nov. 17.

Book said in December “there was some obviously miscommunications and misunderstandings amongst everybody” throughout the process. He added, “We do have a hotel that needs to be torn down, and it's an eyesore. It's a safety issue. That's what land banks are for, to be part of that discussion and be helpful in that regard.”

As discussed at the HCLRC’s Jan. 19 meeting, the village provided a $97,777 estimate from JWM Excavating for the demolition of the hotel structure. According to a project description, that will include “demolition and removal of demolition debris; basement floor to be broken to allow water drainage; and basement backfilled with fill material and topped with topsoil to match surrounding grade.”

“This property is, as you all know, is adjacent to another property, and there are concerns about what is going to happen with the other property whenever this one is torn down,” Book said. “We want to set up a situation where we can help Greenfield in the teardown of the Elliott Hotel, but also first, limit our exposure in that situation and also say this is what we can do. This is how much we're willing to help with that.”

Book added that his “recommendation for you all to consider is to say that we're willing to assist with $50,000;” for the HCLRC to sign the as-yet unfinished cost sharing agreement contract; and to eventually pay the $50,000 “to the contractor once the teardown is complete … so we can move forward and get this property down and get that problem cleaned up in that community.”

Board member Terry Britton asked what the HCLRC’s “responsibility” is for the demolition.

“Our responsibility would be to help pay for the expense of the teardown,” Book said. “We would not be a signatory on the teardown contract. Our only agreement would be with the village to assist them with the payment.”

Board member Lauren Walker asked if the Village of Greenfield had “provided any kind of documentation to prove that they're able to meet the remaining amount” owned to the contractor.

“I was told by the legal representative that they had set aside more than $50,000 on their side to tear this down,” Book said.

In his first meeting on the board, commissioner David Daniels asked if Book feels “comfortable that the land bank’s position is secure and limited to the $50,000 payment.”

“That's what we're agreeing to pay, and it's specific in the cost-sharing agreement, that's our limit of exposure,” Book responded.

Daniels made the motion to approve the payment and to authorize the board president to sign the cost-sharing agreement, which passed unanimously.

“I think we've made a good step there to clean up a problem that's been kind of lingering for a while,” Book said.

In other discussion:

• As reported by the Ohio Governor’s Office Dec. 16, the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation was awarded over $556,000 for their remaining cleanup projects, including $90,935 for cleanup and remediation of the former East Monroe Mill and $465,399 for cleanup and remediation of the former Rocky Fork Truck Stop. Environmental consultant Matt Wagner of TetraTech told the board that a pre-bid meeting for the Rocky Fork Truck Stop is scheduled Thursday at 11 a.m.

“I anticipate a very good turnout,” Wagner said.

With Wagner adding that the bid deadline is Friday, Jan. 27 at 5 p.m., Britton asked if they should schedule a special meeting to review the bids. Wagner said he would “like for whoever is going to be the winning bidder to be in a position to ramp up and get things ready to go for that project.”

After discussion, it was determined to hold a special meeting Monday, Jan. 30 at 9 a.m. at the county administration building to review the bids and conduct any other needed business.

“I will come back with a package, if you will, itemizing the bids for the land bank,” Wagner said. “Ultimately, then they'll become my subcontractor, so they'll work under TetraTech. That way all liability stays with TetraTech.”

Wagner added that “as a land bank, you do not have to choose low price” as the primary factor for awarding bids.

For the former East Monroe Mill, Wagner said they have “completed the first stage of the work including the remedial action plan,” with bids for the project expected to be due in early February.

• Land bank coordinator Mackenzie Edison discussed the Building Demolition and Site Revitalization projects, which include 11 properties in Hillsboro, five in Mowrystown and three in Lynchburg . She said that weather permitting, work on the abandoned barn on state Route 73 (North West Street) in Hillsboro is scheduled to start Monday, Jan. 23.

For the residences targeted under the grant program, Edison said there are still three properties in Lynchburg and four residences in Hillsboro, plus the barn, that are remaining. Other properties, including all of the parcels in Mowrystown, have been completed. She shared before and after photos with the board.

Walker asked if there is “anything holding up” the remaining Hillsboro projects. Edison said they had to have asbestos abatement done on most of the remaining properties, which has delayed their demolition.

• Discussing properties on the board’s agenda, Edison said that after listing a property on Wizard of Oz Way for several months with no interested buyers, she has finally heard from someone out of state who may want to buy the parcel.

“I need to do some more following up with her before bringing that to the board,” Edison said.

The board voted in December to lower the cost from $10,800 to $7,000 and had previously advised Edison to list the property on Zillow.

Edison also asked the board how they would like to proceed with a property on Heather Moor Trail, which the HCLRC recently acquired through tax foreclosure. There is a mobile home on the lot, and Edison said she would be finishing the title transfer for the trailer and getting the deed recorded Thursday.

“I would say by the end of this week into next week, we'll have that in our name,” Edison said.

She asked the board what they wanted to do with the mobile home on the lot.

“I think if you see inside of it, you’ll see that it needs removed,” board member Randy Mustard said.

Britton told Edison to seek bids for cleaning up the property. Mustard added that he had already spoken to people interested in purchasing the lot and would give their contact information to Edison.

The third property on Edison’s list — one on East Main Street in Hillsboro, whose owner is interested in donating the lot to the HCLRC — was discussed by Book, who is working to find out options for an income tax lien on the parcel.

“I reached out to Lucas Ward at the Attorney General's office about getting that tax lien released,” Book said. “I think, at this point, it’s 400 and some dollars with interest.

“Lucas said that we can send a picture of the property of the disrepair and the fact that it's not livable and usable. Also, they’re going to need some statements that the person that owns it is not actually getting any benefit from this transaction. Then they'll decide whether they're willing to release it, so it's worth pursuing.”

• As this was the board’s first meeting of the calendar year — and since their previous president, Jeff Duncan, has stepped down due to his term as county commissioner ending — the board elected their president and vice president.

A motion by Daniels to appoint Britton as president, and to reappoint Mustard as vice president, passed by a 5-0 vote.

• In the fiscal report, Edison reported a balance of $473,286.38 as of Dec. 30, with credits and deposits including an $11,634 payment for a recently sold property in Highland, a $6,824.05 reimbursement for the Brownfield program and a $39,076.84 reimbursement for the Demolition and Site Revitalization program. The HCLRC had five checks cleared, as well as an electronic payment to QuickBooks, in December, Edison said.

Edison also presented a list of numerous invoices that she needed approval to pay, including eight separate payments to contractors for demolition work; her salary and a reimbursement for paying for a recorders fee, website subscription and Brownfield conference registration; legal fees to Book and attorney Greg Van Zant; a mobile home title transfer; and a payment for office supplies.

Britton asked if Edison had “inspected” the completed demolitions to be sure “everything’s done that’s supposed to be done” before they approved the payments. She said that she had.

Also during the fiscal report, Edison asked if she would be paid for her time attending Ohio Land Bank Association meetings or if they wanted her to use personal time for that. The board agreed that she could continue to be paid for that time as it is part of her official duties.

The board also voted 5-0 to remove Duncan from bank access and as a signer for checks and other documents and to add Daniels in his place. Britton will continue to have that authority as well.

• In addition to discussing the Elliott Hotel and the tax lien on the Hillsboro property, Book said he is “continuing to look at policy and procedure updates” and is “pretty close” to finalizing a draft of the revisions he is recommending.

He said that he and Edison are also working to research properties “that would qualify for a tax certificate purchase through the treasurer's office,” selecting “three or four” they could potentially target.

• Edison invited anyone interested to attend the Ohio Brownfields Conference, scheduled to be held in May in Columbus, as well as the Ohio Land Bank Conference set for April 26-28 in Dayton. She also asked the land bank board to consider whether they are interested in buying a sponsorship for the Ohio Land Bank Conference, once those open up, which could involve getting some tickets included.

Daniels said he wanted to determine “what benefit we get” from sponsoring the conference before making a decision.

Both Edison and Book said the conference is “valuable” and encouraged the board members to consider attending.