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Published: Monday, 6/22/2009

Perrysburg neighbors contest site for history museum

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Neighbors surrounding a West River Road farmhouse say they love history, but they don't love the idea of having a local history museum in their backyard.

The Perrysburg Area History Museum has asked the city to rezone the 1823 homestead of Aurora Spafford, son of Perrysburg's founder, Amos Spafford, from residential to institutional. The group would like to establish a museum at the site, which is just west of Fort Meigs State Memorial.

At two public meetings on a rezoning request for the property last week, some residents from the Rivercrest subdivision said they did not want to look out their windows and see a parking lot, cars, tour buses, or worse yet, rusting farm machinery they believe inevitably would be donated to the museum.

They also contend the 0.63-acre site is too small for the museum's plans, which include an addition to the house, construction of a small barn, relocation of a log cabin, and a parking lot.

"This property is not very big. I mean it's less than an acre and we're hearing a lot of structures, a parking lot. We are very concerned about this," said Linda Fatica, who lives behind the Spafford home.

Despite their concerns, City Council's planning and zoning committee agreed 3-0 to recommend the property be rezoned from residential to institutional. Some panel members said the city would be in a better position to address the neighbors' concerns about the property if it is rezoned.

"I think if we rezone it, we have a lot more control over the appearance of the property than we do now. We really have no control now," said Joe Lawless, council president. "If it is rezoned and if the historic museum can take it over, I'm pretty confident they'll do things to improve the site."

Judith Justus, president of the museum group, said the group has a three-phase plan that calls for additions at the site, but she hoped it would be aesthetically pleasing for the neighbors and the whole community. "We'd like to enrich the neighborhood, not desecrate it," she said.

Councilman Tim McCarthy said the council was not reviewing a site plan at this time but only making a decision on whether a museum would be an appropriate use for the site.

"People have different ideas of what they'd like to see there, but if the zoning is changed, it doesn't mean that site will look exactly like you might say is acceptable or exactly like they might say they intend to develop it," Mr. McCarthy said. "I just want everyone to understand there's a lot that happens after this."

Rick Thielen, the city's administrator of planning, zoning, and economic development, said there would be at least seven opportunities for the public to chime in on the project if the rezoning is approved.

The museum group would have to submit a preliminary site plan that would have to go before the planning commission and City Council before a final site plan is approved. The Perrysburg Historic Landmarks Commission also would have to review any proposed changes to the site because it is part of the historic district, he said.

Andy Black, a trustee with the Rivercrest Homeowners Association, conceded he agreed with the zoning change, saying it was "a step in the right direction."

"We have concerns because we have invested heavily in our properties but that doesn't mean it can't be worked out, and I think it can be," Mr. Black said. "I think we're willing to work in the planning stages. This is really where the rubber meets the road, and we'd like to be represented in the planning stages so this goes forward in a proactive way and a positive way but also so that neighbors will be good neighbors."

Architect Kate MacPherson, who is working with the museum group, told the zoning committee that after a public hearing on the rezoning she spoke with the neighbors about having a community design review of the museum's plans before they go to the city, giving Rivercrest representation on the museum board, and drawing up a memorandum of understanding between the groups.

City Council, which had agreed to give the Perrysburg Area Historic Museum $10,000, is scheduled to vote on the rezoning when it meets at 7 p.m. July 7.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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