Reily Township community members protest sale of preserved land

This yard sign is one of several in Reily Township protesting the MetroParks sale of the Stander farm to a developer instead of turning it into a park.

Photo provided by members of Preserve the Stander Preserve

This yard sign is one of several in Reily Township protesting the MetroParks sale of the Stander farm to a developer instead of turning it into a park.

By Kylie Pursifull

A group of community members in Reily Township are protesting the Butler County MetroParks’ decision to sell a plot of land to a developer instead of turning it into a park.

In 2003, Butler County Metroparks purchased the 187-acre Stander family farm at 5750 Dunwoody Road, from Carl and Nell Stander, with the understanding that the land would be held as an undeveloped preserve during their lifetimes, and that of their son, Tom Stander, who also lived on the farm.

Carl Stander died in 2006 and his son died in 2019, at which time MetroParks assumed full control of the property. 

This purchase agreement included life estates for both the original seller of the property and his son. The life estates allowed both to live on the closed park property until their eventual passing,” according to a statement released by MetroParks.

The park board then decided it did not need another park in the area and that its needs would be better served by selling the land and putting the proceeds toward improvements to other, already existing parks on the west side of the county.

A group of 47 local residents then signed a petition to the board, objecting to the action. A Facebook page the group created, called Preserve the Stander Preserve, states that the Standers meant for the land to become a park, and that the deed stated that MetroParks meant to use it for a future park when it bought the farm in 2003.

But in September of 2020, a for sale sign went across the front gate of the property. 

Metroparks spokesperson Kelly Barkley said the original 2003 agreement did not require the land to be used for a park.

Since there was no additional language in the original 2003 agreement that spoke to the further intent of the seller that defined or guaranteed specific future use of the property, MetroParks Board of Park Commissioners discussed potential options relative to the property,” said Barkley. “After all options were considered, the Board determined that selling the property was in the best interest of the approximately 380,000 Butler County residents the park system serves. The Board also instructed that all net proceeds from the sale of the Dunwoody property be directed to other projects on the west side of the county in order that the proceeds benefit the largest number of individuals possible.”

There are several Metroparks nearby, such as the Indian Creek Park and the Four Mile Creek Park.

In October, the land was sold to the highest bidder, Myron Bowling, for $1,050,000, and Barkley says they are unsure of his future plans for the property. 

Bowling, the owner of Myron Bowling Auctioneers, said he intends to subdivide and sell the land. 

“We plan to subdivide into 12, 5-acre lots. There are 107 acres behind the property buyers can also purchase,” said Bowling. “We are not planning to build houses, just to sell the land. We have already sold two lots with 20 acres behind it to join the land already there for a pasture.”

This map shows the outline of the 185 acres that were the Stander farm on Dunwoody Road in Reily Township. Photo provided by Preserve the Stander Preserve

The lots are selling for $120,000 a piece, with however much acreage behind them the individual buyers would like to purchase, Bowling said.

Bowling said the members of the Preserve the Stander Preserve group are absolutely wrong. 

“There is no preserve or documentation of there being a preserve,” Bowling said. 

The house and the smaller buildings on the property were demolished. The barn that has been on the property since 1824 was saved.  

Dean Bruewer, a Reily Township resident and supporter of Preserve the Stander Preserve, said he believes that the sale of the land goes against MetroParks’ own mission.

“The MetroParks’ mission includes an objective to preserve green space,” said Bruewer. “Their purchase of the Stander Property was assumed to meet this objective. Consequent ‘sale’ of the property negates their objective and also indicates a predilection toward real estate speculation. A better understanding of the MetroParks strategy is warranted in this matter.”

The Preserve the Stander Preserve Facebook page lists several reasons the group would like to save the property from development.

“The ‘Preserve the Stander Preserve!’ Group has been established to advocate for and maintain the environmental integrity of the Stander Preserve, to maintain the original intent and wishes of the Stander Family, as outlined in the deed, and to save this critical habitat for the following reasons: preserve and protect watersheds, preserve wildlife habitat, protect important birding areas, protect plant and animal diversity, protect the rural viewscapes, protect drinking water sources and conservation education.” 

Sarah and Andy Dillhoff are neighbors to the Stander property and old friends of the Stander family, as well as one of the administrators of the Preserve Facebook page. 

“What makes us fight back? A family, a neighbor, and a friend wanted their beautiful farm to be ‘preserved’ for future generations to enjoy,” said Andy Dillhoff. 

The members of the community group are not concerned with the legality of the sale, but more concerned about the approach the Butler County MetroParks took with the property.

Although we have our questions, this isn’t all about what is legal/illegal,” said Sarah Dillhoff. “This is more about the moral/ethical obligation that MetroParks has to the community and families who have sold or ‘gifted’ their land to them.”

Many of the members of the community are planning to attend the next public Butler County MetroParks meeting — to be held Jan. 28 via Zoom — to complain about the land being sold.