Developer withdraws plans to change Grove Hill

By Barbara Christian
Feb 6, 2020

CHAGRIN FALLS — The owner of property at 3 West Summit St. has, for now, withdrawn his request to makes changes to the house on Grove Hill.

Developer and property owner Robert Vitt had made a proposal to the village Architectural Review Board to move the historical Bancroft house elsewhere on the lot that would have added 565 square feet to the rear of the property and demolish an accessory building that was in the way of that plan.

Late last year, Mr. Vitt had asked to demolish the landmark house to make room for new luxury townhouses.

The withdrawal made during a Tuesday review board meeting came at the suggestion of members who ultimately advised Mr. Vitt that he had not supplied economic feasibility reports, scientific soil reports and hillside requirements that would “allow us to make a decision based on (zoning) code requirements which guide us,” review board Chairman Dr. Steve King said.

He was not alone in his determination. Board member and architect Phil Koepf, added, “I’m not sure what I am supposed to be looking at here.”

Member Wendy Naylor advised Mr. Vitt that if she had to make an immediate decision, “I would have to vote no.” She requested a more comprehensive plan for the property if he does come before the board again.

Mr. Vitt said when he has the required documentation, the new plan could include razing the Bancroft home.

Chagrin Falls Historical Society President John Bourriseau told the review board that the property is historically significant as it was once the home of a portrait painter whose work is displayed at the Ohio State House in Columbus.

The accessory building in question was his studio, Mr. Bourisseau added. Regulations for historic significance include that notable people have resided on the property.

Mr. Vitt, however, drew a grim picture of the home’s future viability, citing its ancient basement foundation to critter infested attic and animal urine soaked walls.

He described the home as not having been maintained for the past 50 years and will be more costly to restore than its ultimate market value.

Dr. King reminded Mr. Vitt that Chagrin Falls requires only basic repairs. “It does not need to be perfection” from the village’s official point of view, he said.

Two neighbors said the house had been maintained, once after a fire in recent memory. Another woman said building permits issued just five years ago were proof that there had been maintenance on the house.

Those in the standing room only audience asked board members to bar Mr. Vitt from doing anything on the property he owns, including the Bancroft home, which has occupied the peak from Summit and Main streets for well over a century.

The acre plus corner lot that stretches down Grove Hill to West Cottage Street is the site where Mr. Vitt is planning the second phase of redevelopment in that area that would include three to five townhomes. Residents have spoken out against that plan.

Some residents said they feared the entire swath of land, if developed, would endanger existing houses and the WPA wall due to possible removal of old growth trees that could impact the stability of the hill.

“Billy” Weber Jr., a Summit Street neighbor, warned board members not to accept the developer’s word for any information he might provide.

He reminded them of a West Summit Street home that was damaged, condemned and ultimately evacuated when that part of the hill was excavated prior to construction of Mr. Vitt’s River Walk townhomes on West Orange Street.

Another West Summit Street resident, Brian Schwartz, called attention to the village subdivision and hillside regulations, both of which talk about safeguards that speak directly to what Mr. Vitt is planning.

At one point during the meeting, Dr. King suggested the developer forgo the time, effort and money and sell the Bancroft house to someone who will restore it.

Mr. Vitt described the structure as “the ghost of a home that has been dying over the years. It has been on the market for 15 years and there has been no one” interested in buying it.

“But you bought the house knowing this and now you want to tear it down,” Dr. King said.

The Western Reserve Land Conservancy President and CEO Rich Cochran said last week if neighbors are willing to get involved, the conservancy would take the lead.

He envisioned a public park could be developed on the bottom part of the property and the home resold to someone who would promise to rehabilitate it and make it a family home again.

On Monday, Mr. Cochran said he has been talking to neighbors and hoped to meet with Mr. Vitt soon.

"Developer withdraws plans to change Grove Hill". Chagrin Valley Times. Retrieved February 6, 2020.

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