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City makes peace in old zoning war
City makes peace in old zoning war
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
The Chardon planning commission recommended rezoning Monday for a 24.8-acre property at Water Street (Route 6) and Meadowlands Drive that was a lightning rod for controversy 20 years ago.
The property, owned by Loreto Development Co., was at the center of a protracted legal fight against a planned Walmart store that reached the Ohio Supreme Court.
The planning commission's action is part of a settlement reached between the developer and city over a lawsuit filed in April 2011. In that lawsuit, the developer claimed that the city's attempt to negotiate for approximately 1 acre for a new roadway was not being conducted in good faith.
The recommendation to Chardon City Council, which has the final say, is that the property be rezoned from the C-1 zoning to the less restrictive C-4 zoning.
The planning commission also approved a lot split for a 70-by-700-foot parcel from the property for a new roadway.
Commission member Andrew Blackley said the property was the subject of a fight to prevent a Walmart store from locating there about 20 years ago. A referendum ballot issue to rezone the property for the big-box store was rejected by Chardon voters, he said, and a legal battle between the city and developer reached the Ohio Supreme Court. In the end, the city and its residents were victorious in their efforts to keep a Walmart store out of Chardon.
Law Director James Gillette said the zoning change now being proposed would allow big-box stores there.
Mr. Blackley asked whether the city is reneging on its actions years ago. "It seems we're going back on things that were decided in the court of public opinion," he said.
Mr. Gillette said the economic climate has changed from what it was 20 years ago. There also has been a significant change in surrounding properties since a rezoning was granted for less restrictive zoning to the east, he said.
City Council believes that the opportunity to provide for a connecting road through the area is so important that it's willing to go along with the rezoning, Mr. Gillette said.
The planned connecting road from the intersection of Water Street and Meadowlands Drive eventually would connect Water Street with Park Avenue.
Planning commission chairman Kenneth Miller said he also served as commission chairman for the city at the time the Walmart issue was at its height. He said there was an anti-Walmart sentiment across the country at the time, and there would have been less controversy if it had been a Sears or Penny's store. He said one meeting on the issue had to be moved to a larger space when a crowd of more than 150 turned out, many of them from throughout the county.
One of the major complaints residents now have is the increased traffic in Chardon, Mr. Miller said. While various bypass routes have been proposed to alleviate traffic congestion, none have taken root, he said.
Now, the city has an opportunity to provide some semblance of a bypass, which may be its last chance, Mr. Miller said. "It's going to be a godsend for people who travel."
City Council President and planning commission member Philip King said Walmart, which subsequently built on another property about a quarter mile away in Chardon, has been an active supporter of local projects, including giving to the Chardon Healing Fund.
Steven Yaney, the city's planning and zoning administrator, said attempts to restrict the size of buildings sometimes prevent desirable development. He said the property in question could support such developments as medical offices or a medical research facility.
With the addition of a road through the property, Mr. Yaney said, the city and developer will get a highly visible, attractive site for development.
Mr. Blackley said the area serves as a gateway to the city, and officials must proceed with caution on any development that takes place there.
Mr. Yaney said the city also has more requirements for landscaping and design features, so any development there now would be more appealing than what would have been built 20 years ago.
Under the C-1 zoning, building sizes were capped at 50,000 square feet. The C-4 zoning limits building size according to lot size. Mr. Yaney said a 15,000-square-foot building could be constructed for each acre.
The zoning change also allows many uses that previously were considered conditional. Churches, nursing homes, day-care centers and public safety centers are now permitted, he said.
Other uses that were prohibited will be considered conditional uses, such as gas stations, body and repair shops and car sales.
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