EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is in response to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can submit questions to the staff.
ONTARIO -- In August, the city of Ontario was ready to purchase 70 acres of land for a new wastewater treatment plant. City officials talked with the owner and agreed on a price.
So it came as an unpleasant surprise when they found out it had been sold to someone else -- an auto dealership located next to the property.
Deborah Mount was surprised, too.
"The property transfers from 12/1 said that Spitzer bought 70 acres near them for $1.2M," said Mount in an Open Source submission. "Was this the same land that Ontario bought for a wastewater plant in August for $700K? Any idea what happened?"
Here's what happened.
After months of analysis, the city of Ontario identified an ideal site for its future wastewater treatment plant -- three land parcels totaling 70 acres at 1779 W. Fourth Street.
At an August 2019 meeting, city council authorized Mayor Randy Hutchinson to purchase the three parcels for $700,000 from Mansfield Holdings LLC, a Illnois-based company.
The plan was that Ontario would purchase the land for $700,000 -- significantly less than its estimated worth -- and if the site proved unsuitable for a plant, the property would be returned to Mansfield Holdings and the city would be refunded the money.
City of Ontario Law Director Andrew Medwid said that to his knowledge, Mansfield Holdings never actually signed an agreement. However, city officials were under the impression that both sides had agreed to the arrangement.
Ontario carried out all the necessary tests and determined the land would be a good option for the city’s wastewater plant. But before the sale could finalized, Mansfield Holdings sold the property to Spitzer A-Team LLP. The Elyria-based LLP owns two dealerships next to the property: Spitzer Kia at 1771 W. Fourth St. and Spitzer Motors of Mansfield is at 1777 W. Fourth St.
“We were working on purchasing the land and the next thing we heard Spitzer bought it,” Hutchinson said.
Cathy Schuster, director of real estate for Spitzer, said that Spitzer had been interested in the land for awhile. For years, she had ongoing conversations with Reed Beidler of Mansfield Holdings LLC about purchasing it.
After finding out from Beidler that the city was interested in buying the land for wastewater treatment, the dealership decided it was time to submit an offer.
“We did not want a sewage treatment plant behind our dealership. It’s not good for business. We have millions of dollars invested and there’s no way to completely get rid of that smell,” Schuster said.
Hutchinson reached out to Spitzer after the sale in effort to convince the dealership to reconsider, but Spitzer declined. Schuster said the company is already working with a commercial broker to bring new business into the area. She believes its proximity to Lexington Springmill makes it a prime spot for development.
“West Fourth Street is a perfect ancillary road for them to develop. It's got nice traffic counts, good frontage,” she said.
Meanwhile, city officials have identified another tentative site for a wastewater treatment plant. Hutchinson said the city has secured the necessary acreage elsewhere.
“We’re still moving forward because we have the land we need,” Hutchinson said.