Akron council members not only approved a controversial new apartment building for veterans, the homeless and the disabled in North Hill on Monday — they voted to make it larger than originally proposed.
Joel Testa, the developer, initially asked for 40 units, but bumped his request up to 60, based on the need in the community. He said Continuum of Care, which surveys the homeless in the area, estimates 388 additional beds are needed to service the homeless. He argued against putting off the project, as one councilman suggested, because of the need.
“People are going to die,” he told council’s Planning Committee Monday afternoon, referring to the homeless who could perish in the cold because of a lack of housing.
Council members were persuaded by Testa’s argument, voting 11-1 to move forward with the plans for the second phase of the Commons at Madaline Park, which will be built on Brownstone Avenue, south of Longshore Avenue.
Council member Russel Neal Jr., however, voted against the proposal, saying he thought the city should see how the first phase of the project goes over before signing off on an expansion. The first 60-unit Commons at Madaline Park is currently under construction and is expected to open in March.
“I have no problem with the project,” he said. “I have a problem with us rushing without knowing how this will impact the neighborhood and those who live there. They want to do the second phase before they finish the first.”
Council member Linda Omobien, who works for Community Support Services, which will be the co-owner of the apartment buildings, abstained from the votes.
Council member Jim Hurley, who represents Ward 2 that includes the development, backed the project after expressing concerns when it was initially proposed earlier this year.
“A facility for the vets — I have a hard time saying no to that,” he said. “In my heart, I think it’s a good idea.”
Councilman Jeff Fusco, who chairs the Planning Committee, reminded council members that they needed to vote based on the best use for the land and not based on who will be living there.
“It’s the use — not the users,” he said.
A resident opposed to the apartments pulled a petition to delay the project and require a supermajority vote of council, which equates to nine out of 13 members, but didn’t submit the petition by the 4:30 p.m. closing time for the council clerk’s office Monday.
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, a prominent developer from Cuyahoga Falls, 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 neighborhood, which mostly has single-family homes.
The Commons at Madaline will include a pharmacy, doctor exam room, small store, gardens and greenhouse and will provide a bus for the residents.
Testa said the first apartment building is fully booked and names are being taken for those who want to live in the second.
Council approved five pieces of legislation related to the second phase of the project, which included plans for the building, the construction of water and sewer improvements and a utility right-of-way, and support for an application Testa plans to submit to the state for tax credits to help pay for the development.
The legislation also facilitates a land swap for the development, with the city acquiring 4 acres of land at the end of Sorin and Vane that will be used for a park or open space in exchange for 4 acres of city-owned park land on Brownstone that will go to Testa. (This won’t cost the city any money.)
Council, which has only one more meeting this year, took action on a number of items Monday. These included voting to:
• Approve a 37,405-square- foot addition at Sterling Jewelers campus at 375 Ghent Road. Robert Marshall, an architect on the project, said the three-story building will be used for distribution, shipping and office space.
• Throw the city’s support to a renewal of the Downtown Special Improvement District, which provides services downtown and is funded by assessments paid by downtown businesses.
Suzie Graham, who heads Downtown Akron Partnership, said 68 percent of downtown businesses in a 42-block area so far have approved the renewal, with only 60 percent required. She expects more than 70 percent to support the renewal by the end of the year.