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Medical offices nixed in industrial district
Medical offices nixed in industrial district
By SUE REID
Solon's planning commission did not give much support last week for two requests for a zoning change to allow medical offices to be included in the industrial district.
Following discussion, the planning commission approved a motion to send correspondence to City Council that the matter will be sent on to the newly formed master plan citizens commission for review. The two business owners requesting the change also will be contacted, and the issue will be moved to the planning commission's inactive agenda.
Mayor Susan A. Drucker, who is a member of the planning commission, said, while she always is in support of the business community and its advancement, she struggles with the request of extending permitted uses for various reasons.
"We already have vacancies in the I-2 district," Mrs. Drucker said. "If medical and dental offices were full, it might be worth looking at, but with vacancies, it makes it difficult for me to support this at this time.
"It's untimely right now to make a decision like this," she said.
Mrs. Drucker said, if she knew the change would not impact negatively the commercial district, she would not have a problem with it.
In June 2008, there was a proposal to add medical uses and others in the I-2 and O-2, office districts. The planning commission at that time approved I-2 and O-2 for medical, but later that summer City Council, acting on the recommendation, only approved the O-2 changes and rejected medical uses in I-2. In November 2008, Solon voters approved the O-2 uses.
City Planning Director Robert S. Frankland said the rejection of medical uses in I-2 was due to a concern that they would compete with existing office uses. In addition, medical uses are higher-traffic uses, he said of the concerns raised at that time.
In addition to the two letters requesting to expand the uses, the commission received a letter in opposition from Dennis A. Totarella, a commercial real estate developer in the I-2 district who recently has developed Brittain Place, which is located in the historic zoning district. He is opposed to "selective rezoning for personal benefit," he said.
"As developers, we are well aware of the location, zoning use, the risks we take when we decide to move forward with a project," Mr. Totarella said. "We agree to live with the existing conditions and make the best of them. I can name another half dozen developers that own property (including our company) on that road, in the same vicinity, that will be standing in line requesting the benefit. I can remember turning away many doctors during the four years we built the Solon Business Campus."
Councilwoman Toni M. Richmond said, "I am not in support of making a move like this that would change the dynamics of the city.
"We establish our zoning in a way that I think was deliberately done to maintain a healthy retail, medical, commercial and industrial area," she said. "If we allow that to happen, we can open flood gates," she said of the change. Ms. Richmond said she does not support expanding the uses "as long as we have commercial properties available."
The two requests the city received were from Charles Wolf, whose family owns the Solon Marquis Building at Solon and Aurora (Route 43) roads and Larry Coven, of Bainbridge Road Associates LLC, who owns a multi-tenant building on Bainbridge Road, also in the I-2 district.
Mr. Wolf said the reason behind the request to expand the uses was to keep his space fully occupied and provide a nice service to the city's residents. By permitting all landlords in the I-2 zone to have medical tenants, "we can expect office occupancy to improve, jobs to be created and Solon's tax base to go up," Mr. Wolf said.
Mr. Coven said new tenants are not easy to find, and that he recently had a wellness center interested in his building, but had to turn them away because they saw patients and offered some minor medical treatments (non-surgical) on site.
Mr. Totarella said he believes that limits and boundaries for different business types are necessary "to maintain healthy retail, medical, commercial and industrial areas.
"By diluting the concentration of like businesses by allowing them to expand across zoning districts, in my opinion, only weakens that particular district they are leaving," Mr. Totarella said.
"I don't want to rob Paul to pay Peter," Mrs. Drucker said.
Commission member William M. Mazur said that he finds it curious that one of the request to modify the zoning is in relation to a building that is fully occupied, referring to the Marquis Building.
"I'm not sure if it is to better the zoning code or to have leverage with negotiations for incoming tenants," Mr. Mazur said of the reason behind the request. "In my mind, is this something the owner thinks is best for the city or something to use for negotiating a higher rent or keeping the rent the same?"
He said that he does not think it appropriate for a medical office to be located in a busy industrial area. It would make more sense in certain I-2 areas, like on Bainbridge Road and a portion of Solon Road where multi-tenant offices are located.
Commission member Nancy E. Meany said she has concerns about parking issues if the use was expanded. She said at this point, she would be in favor of allowing the master plan citizens commission to look at the matter and see if it would be advisable.
"I would possibly consider this a good study if the city's downtown were overbuilt," Mr. Totarella said, "but I believe we are still working on actively reinvesting to improve the downtown area. Allowing this expansion wouldn't send a responsible message to the community or future investors. Hopefully, this request will not live past the study process."
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