City of Berea considers plans with city-owned houses, keeping student renters out of Historical District

Ward 4 Berea City Councilwoman Erika Coble, who represents part of BW and the Historical District of Berea, said that the City wanted to receive the houses and placed an owner-occupied deed restriction on the properties which would not allow them to be rented to students.


Austin Patterson, The Exponent

180 Beach St. is one of the vacant City-owned houses for which the Berea government and local homeowner’s association have proposed plans.

On Feb. 16, a Berea City Council finance committee meeting was held to hear the proposals from both the city and the Century Home Garden District Homeowners Association as to what should be done to the two vacant City-owned houses located on 180 and 190 Beech St., an area in which the City is attempting to disallow Baldwin Wallace University students from renting.  

Ward 4 Berea City Councilwoman Erika Coble, who represents part of BW and the Historical District of Berea, said the City wanted to receive the houses and place owner-occupied deed restrictions on the properties which would not allow them to be rented to students. Coble said this decision was made not because of the BW students themselves, but because of the landlords.  

The two houses on Beech Street were obtained by the City in 2016. At that time, the historical homes were leased to students by DiGeronimo Companies, a construction company based in Independence, Ohio. Through an agreement with the City, DiGeronimo Companies was given a City-owned parking lot and an alleyway to construct the building on Front Street which houses BW dorms and various businesses such as Starbucks.   

When houses within the Historical District of Berea were rented to students in the past, there were some problems, said Marlene Shurell, president of the HOA.   

“There were some problems when they had the party houses because, you know, kids are kids, and the kids who went to the party houses are the kind that like to act up a little,” Marlene Shurrell said.   

Dan Karp, assistant vice president and director of university relations, said that when students break the rules in the rental homes not owned by BW, people will reach out to BW for help. Although BW administration tries to offer help, the landlords are rarely notified.  

“The third-party landlord is responsible that if students don’t take good care of the property… We do try to help and resolve the issues where we can because you’re our students, and we want you to be good neighbors,” Karp said.   

Ward 5 Councilman Rick Skoczen said that regardless of whether money is put into the two City-owned houses, anyone could still purchase the houses and place them in a college student’s name, and the City might end up with the “college issue again.”   

“It would get us back to [where] we didn’t want to be, which was that [we] had college students back in the district,” Skoczen said. “We don’t know if they’re renting and then we can be back to square one with what we were dealing with before.”    

One of the proposals from the City of Berea was that the City would acquire 188 Beech St., which is currently owned by BW; in turn, the University would take a portion of land behind 190 Beech St. The backyard of 190 Beech St. faces the side of the Lou Higgins Recreation Center, and BW would want to turn this into a deed-restricted landscaping barrier. This option included tearing down all three houses and building two new homes that would be available for sale to families.   

In response to this proposal, one member of the HOA, Rob Shurrell, said that this option would go against an agreement made between the University and the City which establishes the neighborhood as a Type A Single Family Residential District.  

Yet, in an interview with The Exponent, BW President Bob Helmer said while there were discussions and thoughts on this matter put into writing in the 1970s and 1980s, there is no signed legal agreement.   

“What we try to do is keep an open line of communication and keep the neighborhood updated on our plans,” Helmer said.  

In addition, Marlene Shurell said that communication with the most recent BW administration has not been as fluid as it has been with previous presidents.  

“[In the past] we’ve always had a very open conversational relationship. And we reached out several times, but I guess he’s [Helmer] just busy and hasn’t been available, so we’d love it if he were able to have conversations with us” she said.  

In response, Helmer said the neighbors did not check his calendar when they asked him to join them for a meeting on Monday, Feb. 13. However, he has always wanted to talk to the neighbors and have a meeting with the community every semester.  

“The thing is, I travel a lot in February, and so I was out of state the 12, 13 and 14, so I wasn’t here,” Helmer said. “So, I simply wasn’t able to go to that meeting. I emailed the person that sent out the invitation and said I wasn’t able to attend and somehow that became I didn’t want to talk to the neighbors.”