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Parcel rezoning up to voters
Parcel rezoning up to voters
By SUE REID
City Council moved Monday to let voters decide the fate of a 2.5-acre parcel immediately to the east of the Solon Village Plaza.
The 5-2 decision followed a public hearing on the issue that highlighted two opposing views, including an appeal to develop it as retail.
Before council was the third reading of an ordinance that would submit to electors the rezoning of the parcel from C-3-A shopping center zoning district to O-1, office zoning. The planning commission had recommended reverting the zoning back to O-1 office from C3-A, which coincided with a recommendation reached earlier this summer by the master plan citizens’ committee.
Voting in favor of submitting the issue to voters were Richard A. Bell, Nancy Meany, Toni M. Richmond, William I. Russo and William D. Mooney. Voting in opposition were Robert N. Pelunis and Edward H. Kraus.
The parcel, which is between the shopping center and the Carrington Court senior housing complex on Aurora Road (Route 43), is the only portion of the designated Solar redevelopment area that hasn’t been acquired by Echo Solon, which is redeveloping the shopping center.
In 2009, city voters approved changing the zoning for the area to C-3A to allow for the redevelopment of the shopping center. A development agreement established for the Solar Shopping Center included the property east of the plaza. The property owners indicated that rezoning on that vacant property was needed to make the redevelopment economically feasible.
With a new development agreement in place, the plaza is being redeveloped without the property to the east. The area remains owned by the Perlick Caplin family. A temporary moratorium approved by City Council exists on zoning variances, site plan approval and other official action that would permit the development of the parcel. The moratorium was placed on the property because the reason for the zone change no longer exists.
The parcel formerly was zoned for office use. The C-3-A zoning on the parcel is the same zoning as the Echo site and would allow for most types of retail uses, such as fast-food restaurants, among others.
David Berkovitz of LRC Development in Akron said his firm has control of the parcel and agreements in place with the owners for purchase. Mr. Berkovitz appealed to City Council for more time before putting this to the voters to revert it back to office, as it recently learned the property was available. Plans are to have the issue on the May 13 ballot.
“We have had a short amount of time to get out there and talk to perspective tenants,” he said. “We think we can do something there that is retail and something residents can be proud of, but we need more time” to “formulate a deal.”
“How much time do you need?” Mr. Mooney asked.
“All the time we can get,” Mr. Berkovitz answered. “It takes time to get tenants on board, and we want to meet with neighbors.”
The fact that the parcel is under a moratorium poses an issue, as well. “The problem we have is talking to anyone due to that,” he said.
The hope is to bring on one or two more tenants, said Mr. Berkovitz, who assured council that it would not be a fast-food restaurant, but potentially a financial institution and another tenant, possibly two, in another building.
“We have an understanding of the sensitivity of abutting residential,” he said.
Speaking in opposition of retail on the parcel was Harley Gross, a partner in Gross Builders, which developed the Carrington Court senior housing project. Mr. Gross said the parcel was under office zoning from back when plans for the senior housing complex first began.
“When we laid the project out, we were sensitive to the neighborhood,” he said. “This would be very egregious to have anything other than office zoning.
“Office zoning is a good transition. Council should vote in favor of the rezoning tonight and get it on the May ballot.”
Mr. Gross indicated he supports this stance on behalf of Gross Builders and on behalf of present and future residents of Carrington Court. Office uses are quieter with a limited number of hours of operation. With retail uses come noise, odors and longer hours of operation.
“We are willing to work with the city and the neighbors on both sides to try to create something beneficial to the city,” Mr. Berkovitz said.
“This should go back to the voters,” Ms. Meany said. “I’d be more comfortable” in letting the voters decide whether the zoning stays commercial or goes back to office.
As a practical matter, Mr. Berkovitz said, “you’d have very few people” who would want to undertake voting by referendum with a parcel this small. “It becomes a hard thing to do.”
Although it may be cumbersome, Law Director Thomas Lobe said, putting the issue back to the voters is a “time-honored route” in the city.
“I favor office, and we need more offices in Solon,” Mr. Mooney said, “but we haven’t had a lot of luck getting offices built.”
“I share Mr. Gross’ concerns,” Mr. Kraus said, but added that he is in favor of giving Mr. Berkovitz more time.
Mr. Mooney said he supports moving the issue to the ballot. Ms. Richmond agreed.
Mr. Pelunis said that, while he is in favor of letting the voters decide, “If someone who controls the property wants more time,” council should consider that.
“I don’t want retail on that site,” Mr. Mooney said. “I think it should be office or nothing.”
City Planning Director Robert S. Frankland indicated there has been definite interest to develop the parcel as retail, which is likely because of the redevelopment of the Echo project. From a planning perspective, however, the appropriate transition is commercial, office and residential.
“You should have the same zoning ideally on both sides of the street,” he said. “There is a good argument for making the property office, as there is already office zoning on the north side of the street.”
The transition would not be smooth if it’s commercial, Mr. Frankland said, because it would be near the senior housing complex. “A lower-impact use, like office, would be less of a nuisance to the adjacent senior housing complex.”
Under office zoning, the primary uses would be offices, professional business offices and medical offices, trade and business schools, public and private educational facilities, churches, synagogues and other places of worship.
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