MANSFIELD — The West Park Shopping Center was not on the city’s Planning Commission agenda Tuesday.

But the condemned strip mall at 1157 Park Ave. West — which the commissioned voted last month to demolish on its own terms— remained a key topic for conversation, as it has for more than a year.

The commission spent more than an hour in executive session Tuesday afternoon to discuss “imminent, potential litigation” after its scheduled agenda items were complete.

No action was taken after the closed-door session.

The private session came at the request of city Law Director John Spon.

Ohio Revised Code Section 121.22 allows for executive sessions for “conferences with an attorney for the public body concerning disputes involving the public body that are the subject of pending or imminent court action.”

West Mansfield Realty Co. attorneys send letter

“As the commission knows, recently, the commission made a decision to basically deny the (demolition) appeal (of) the West (Mansfield) Realty Company,” Spon said.

“In light of that, information was communicated to West (Mansfield) Realty Company and their legal counsel sent a letter to the city stating their position,” Spon said.

“They categorized it as a confidential, privileged settlement communications. For that reason, I’m recommending the commission have a motion to go into executive session so that we can discuss the imminent, potential litigation that West (Mansfield) Realty is now threatening (against) the city.

“We can discuss it thoroughly, try to understand it, and then decide what, if anything, we respond,” the law director said.

Spon said the West Park Shopping Center was not on the commission agenda because the letter “was just recently received.”

“I’ve recently evaluated it (and) had multiple conversations with their legal counsel. And so it’s only proper that you as the jurisdictional entity involved in this subject matter, this development, consider what this law firm is saying and then respond to it in the manner that you believe is appropriate,” Spon said.

After the closed-door session, commission members returned for a 25-second public session that included a motion and vote to end the executive session and then a second motion and vote to adjourn the meeting.

Details of legal letter not disclosed

It’s not known what the letter from the West Mansfield Realty Co. attorneys contained, not were any details discussed in public session.

The commission voted 5-2 on Aug. 18 to demolish the strip mall and large parking lot and would then likely invoice the company to cover the costs of the work to tear down the once-prominent shopping center along the “Miracle Mile.”

No actual demolition work has begun since that vote.

The vote prompted a quick response from Cincinnati attorney Sean Suder, representing the company during the meeting via Zoom.

“So we can maybe have a separate discussion with your law director. I do think, unfortunately, litigation is imminent,” Suder said.

The vote came at the end of a nearly-hour long meeting, which included attorneys for West Mansfield Realty, a New York-based company that is part of Namdar Realty Group.

It also came after Suder and Anthony Matinale, general counsel for Namdar, said they were prepared to demolish the building. Both participated in the meeting via Zoom.

But the two challenged the city’s legal authority to order anything done to the large parking lot and said it was not a part of the original demolition order nine months ago.

City told property owners of violations in 2019

The Planning Commission decision to demolish the property on its own also signaled a significant step in a process that began four years ago when the city’s Codes & Permits Department notified the company of violations on the property it purchased in 2015.

That back-and-forth between the city and the owners ratcheted up in November 2022 when the Planning Commission ordered West Mansfield Realty to tear down two-thirds of the vacant, decaying structure.

The New York-based company appealed the decision and was granted a six-month extension to complete the work. The deadline was July 14 — yet the dilapidated strip of shops remains. 

An “evidentiary hearing” was held before the Planning Commission on Aug. 8. During that meeting, Suder raised the issue of the parking lot demolition and the city’s requirement that it be landscaped with topsoil, grass seed and straw.

At the end of that meeting, members voted to give the company until Aug. 15 to produce a $50,000 appeal bond and also a performance bond that would cover the cost of the demolition and clean-up of the deteriorating property.

West Mansfield Realty did meet the deadline for the appeal bond, but did not submit the performance bond, according to city officials.

During the meeting Aug. 18 , Suder said the company could not post the performance bond because, ““We do not have clarity and I don’t think there is agreement on the scope of the demolition.”

Mansfield Law director counseled caution

Before and after the 5-2 commission vote, Spon tried to counsel caution.

“If (West Mansfield) were to say today that they only need a few days to actually start the demolition of this structure, to not grant them a few days will accomplish nothing. In my opinion, it will not be in the best interest of the city because what it does is it will delay for two or three or four months the whole process,” Spon said.

“If they appeal it and they win the appeal, we have to start all over again. The other factor is that we’re talking about the expenditure of public dollars are PRIDE monies, which are paid by the hardworking citizens of Mansfield,” the law director said.

Commission member David Remy, also the city’s public works director, ran the meeting in August in the absence of Mayor Tim Theaker. He told Spon all of these issues were discussed during the two-hour hearing on Aug. 8 and that West Mansfield Realty had again not met its deadlines.

West Mansfield attorneys tried to continue the discussion before Remy put a stop to it.

“The problem, sir, the problem is you, the opportunity to have these discussions and do this, what you say you’re going to do tomorrow occurred eight to nine months ago and should have been talked then,” Remy said.

“But nobody raised those issues. … Sir, we’re done,” Remy said.

The meeting was adjourned a few minutes later.

Chuck Hahn, Cleveland Financial Group, invests in this independent reporting through a Newsroom Partnership. Learn more about Newsroom Partnerships.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when...