Councilperson challenges sale of property for brewery

by Sue Serdinak

April 13 village council meeting

Richfield Village Council held a special meeting to do the third reading on an ordinance to proceed with the plan to extend Grant Street, construct a new library drive entrance and create public parking in the historic district.

The land involved is the former Heinle property, on the corner of Broadview Road and Grant Street. The village purchased the 1.83 parcel in 2020 for $260,000. In August 2021, council approved the sale of .666 acres of the parcel to Northfork Yellow Creek LLC for $215,000.

Prior to the vote on the ordinance, Councilperson Rick Hudak read a lengthy letter challenging the transparency of the sale of the publicly owned property and the value of the deal to the village.

The sale took place before Hudak was seated on council in January 2022. However, he said that before his election he met with village officials and Walter Haverfield attorney William Hanna, the village’s senior legal counsel, regarding the transparency and legality of the deal.

Hudak said the deal the village made with Northfork is not in the best interest of the community, and the transactions lacked transparency, violating the Sunshine law. He recommended that outside counsel be brought in to review the actions of council and the opinions of Hanna.

Hudak asked these questions in writing: “Is there sufficient parking? If the business needs to expand, is there space? If the business fails, what would be the impact to the community? Is the contract setting a precedent?”

“I believe that the sale of that property and the manner in which it was done should make it void,” Hudak’s letter stated.

Todd Hunt, a partner in the Walter Haverfield law firm, responded to Hudak’s allegations. “I’ve been doing this for a little over 38 years and deal with the Sunshine law daily. I tried to look at this whole issue with fresh eyes. … There were proper motions made,” he said.

Hunt said he believes the law does not require the property to be sold by public bid. “This all revolves around the sale of subject property, and you were considering confidential info for tax increment financing,” he said. “The facts have led me to believe that [the transaction] was compliant with the Sunshine law. If there is a challenge, I would be glad to defend that.”

He later said, “There may be many questions about the business deal, but I do not believe there was any violation of the Sunshine law.”

Council passed the resolution 4-2, with Hudak voting against it and Councilperson Pat Norris, who took office in January, abstaining.  Councilperson Ralph Waszak had an excused absence from the meeting.

K-9 dog

Officer Jake Totten gave a comprehensive report on the value and cost for a police department to have a K-9 dog.  He cited examples where presumed criminals escaped into a wooded area because police couldn’t bring another community’s dog to Richfield quickly enough.

“A dog’s nose is 100,000 times stronger than ours. … We can smell marijuana,’’ Totten said. “What we are looking for is hard drugs such as methamphetamine and crack cocaine [which humans can’t smell].”

Totten said a K-9 dog could be used to sniff for drugs at the truck terminals and in the north end of town where there is a large transient population.

He added that a dog could help with search and rescue for missing persons and for public relations with adults and children.

Totten calculated the cost to obtain a dog, outfit a police cruiser to carry a dog and for training to be about $94,000.

Council proposed adding the cost to the 2023 budget.

Tennis courts

Mayor Michael Wheeler announced that the park board has selected the property just east of Town Hall as the best location to build tennis and pickle ball courts. Wheeler said he would confer with local tennis expert Doug Wenger before proceeding with a plan.

The village had a master plan that showed tennis courts and basketball courts on the 32-acre property, south of the library, that the village purchased in 2008.  

Interim park director

Laura Toth, executive assistant to the mayor who has served as the interim park director, announced that she has resigned the parks position. ∞