By Linda Dillman
The potential sale of the Westchester Golf Course in Canal Winchester to Metro Parks had neighbors of the course alarmed and Canal Winchester City Council keeping mum about its public opinion regarding the situation.
However, citizen efforts in opposition to the sale swung the pendulum in their favor.
Days before the Metro Parks board was due to vote on the contract, park system staff pulled the proposed agreement from the board’s agenda on Sept. 11.
“The offer for the golf course property was officially rescinded on Sept. 15,” said Steve Studenmund, Metro Parks’ strategic planning manager.
During a Sept. 8 council meeting, Villages at Westchester homeowner Adam Christ said. “I don’t understand a case to be made to transition from a property like the golf course to a property like a Metro Park.”
On Sept. 15, Mayor Mike Ebert said, while he had yet to received official word of the termination of the contract, “…residents who said they have an alternate buyer for the course should step up with their promise to Mr. Ruma, purchase the golf course and keep it in operation. I believe they will.”
City Law Director Gene Hollins said the park system did not submit anything to the city, other than a public records request for information regarding zoning of the property. In addition, the city did not provide a letter of support to Metro Parks for a Clean Ohio grant to purchase the golf course, which Hollins said, “speaks volumes.”
The property is part of the Villages of Westchester Planned Unit Development zoning district and falls under specific land use regulations approved in 1990.
According to the 30-year-old PUD document, the golf course “shall not” be redeveloped for any other uses without the approval of the Village of Canal Winchester Planning and Zoning Commission and council.
Noting the potential for litigation during contract negotiations, on Sept. 8, Councilman Will Bennett said, “We, as city residents, have to be careful about our public comments. I want to say that clearly for the public.”
Because the contract was a private land sale between two parties, the city was not involved in the process and had a legal obligation to respect the contractual agreement of the parties. In January, the mayor and public services director met with Studenmund to discuss the park system’s interest in the property.
At that time, Ebert told Studenmund that he could not support Metro Parks buying the golf course for use as anything other than a golf course. While it was common knowledge the golf course was listed for sale a number of years, the city did not learn of the purchase contract with Metro Parks until late August 2020.
There are five Metro Parks located within 10 minutes of downtown Canal Winchester: Walnut Woods, Slate Run, Slate Run Living Historical Farm, Pickerington Ponds, and Chestnut Ridge.