The expansion of a housing development in North Hill has been put on hold after several council members announced their objection to it Monday.
Joel Testa, the developer, pulled his request and council canceled a public hearing scheduled for Monday night. Testa, however, said he isn’t giving up and hopes to win council members’ support and bring the plan back.
“We’re not going to go away quietly,” he said Monday afternoon after a lengthy meeting with council leaders.
Testa is proposing a second phase to an apartment building currently under construction on Brownstone Avenue, south of Longstone Avenue, that caters to veterans, the homeless and people with disabilities. Council approved plans for the first 60-unit apartment building, expected to be completed by February, last June. The second phase of the Commons at Madaline Park would consist of 40 apartments and would serve the same populations.
Council previously passed a resolution expressing support for state tax credits for the second phase of the project. For this reason, Testa said he was expecting council to support plans for the project, which was scheduled for public hearings Monday afternoon during a committee meeting and the regular council meeting that night.
Jim Simon, an attorney representing Testa, was the only person who spoke during the public hearing at the Planning Committee meeting, urging council to support the project. He said the development would cater to populations that currently are underserved in the Akron area.
Keith Stahl of Community Support Services, which will provide services to the residents in the first phase of the project, said the latest census survey of the homeless in Akron found 317 people without housing. He called this a conservative estimate.
The first Commons at Madaline Park brought an end to a year-and-a-half-long dispute between the city and residents in the close-knit neighborhood that includes Sorin and Vane avenues about where the development should be located. The city and Testa, one of the most prominent developers in the Akron area, agreed to move the apartment complex a block away to Brownstone in an area that already includes apartments and commercial properties to appease residents who didn’t want the development in their backyards.
Councilmen Jim Hurley, Ken Jones and Bruce Kilby said Monday that they oppose expanding the development.
Hurley thinks residents in the area won’t be pleased about the plans for a second phase. Several residents attended the council meeting in anticipation of the public hearing that was canceled.
“This needs to be weighed and weighed heavily,” he said.
Jones thinks another location may need to be considered.
“I just don’t think it’s fair to continue to impose on the people already living here,” he said.
Kilby questioned whether this area would be ideal for this many residents, considering that there are no sidewalks. He also thinks the city should see how the first development works out before giving the go-ahead for another one.
Jeff Fusco, who chairs the Planning Committee and met with Testa after the Monday meeting, said council needs to look at the land use of this property and other issues, such as the impact on the neighborhood and increased traffic. He said Testa can bring the proposal back to council within the next two years.
“We want time to work with them and make sure all the concerns are discussed thoroughly,” he said.
Testa said he isn’t giving up on the expansion of the development. He recently formed a nonprofit organization, called Formerly Homeless, that seeks to find housing and provide jobs for the homeless. He said two homeless people froze to death in Ward 2, where the housing would be located. One was found dead in a doghouse, while another was on a bench.
“We will be back,” he said. “This is a big passion for me.”
In other business, council members approved additional plans for a $20 million student housing development planned for property at the corner of South Broadway and East Exchange Street. Exchange Housing LLC is in the process of buying the property from the Beacon Journal, which is valued at about $600,000, according to city officials. Details of the sale haven’t been released. NRP Group in Garfield Heights created Exchange Housing for the Akron project.
Council voted to make this an urban renewal area, which permits the city to give Tax Increment Financing (TIF) on the property. A TIF deal freezes the value of the land before any improvements are made. Taxes are paid as if the land had never been developed. Additional money collected for the increased value of the land goes for a specified time to the project instead.
Legislation will be brought to council at a later date with details on the TIF arrangement.