A controversial new retail and apartment development in Highland Square cleared one hurdle Monday, but may face another.
Akron City Council approved plans for the development but the attorney whose office sits next to the site is threatening to sue.
Councilman Jeff Fusco said he thinks council members went above and beyond to try to satisfy residents and address their concerns and should move forward with the revised plans, despite the continued objections from attorney Jay Linnen, whose office is just east of the 795 W. Market St. site.
“If we did not move forward every time a lawsuit was threatened, the city would be at a standstill,” he said. “It’s up to us to legislate the law — and the courts to interpret it.”
Linnen has raised several concerns, including whether the new development would have enough parking and if people unable to find a spot would use the lot behind his building. He said residents on North Highland and Casterton avenues weren’t fully informed that the plans require two lots to be rezoned from residential to allow commercial purposes for a parking lot.
“We think this is legislative rezoning, which is prohibited,” said Linnen, adding that he plans to file a lawsuit in the next week.
While Linnen still isn’t satisfied, much of the other opposition to the development fizzled after a big ash tree on the property was taken down, with a protester arrested when she refused to get down from the tree and the developers agreeing to several changes. This included turning North Highland Avenue into a cul-de-sac, making the parking lot behind the development one-way and requiring motorists to turn right onto Casterton Avenue.
“It’s an adequate compromise,” David DiDomenico, who was among the protesters trying to save the tree, said Monday.
Steve Brooks, a North Highland resident, praised the city and the developers for working with residents to address their concerns. He said 80 percent of the changes came from suggestions made by residents.
“I congratulate you,” said Brooks, who is associate director of the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. “This is an example of how the system works.”
Fusco and Adele Roth, the city’s development manager, said the city followed state law and the charter in approving the development.
“We followed the letter of the law,” Roth said.
The Nemer family, which owns the property, plans to move Ray’s Pub, Mr. Zub’s deli and the Matinee bar — all family businesses — from across the street on West Market to the new 12,000-square-foot building. The brick building also will have five apartments.
“We are thankful to the city and the neighbors for their cooperation,” Manny Nemer said Monday afternoon after council’s Planning Committee approved the plans.
The Nemers allowed anyone who wanted wood from the ash tree taken down on the property to have it.
DiDomenico said numerous artist and crafts people took advantage of this, including one man who hauled away two truckloads and plans to make frames from it.
DiDomenico said residents who banded together in hopes of saving the tree plan to continue to collaborate on other projects elsewhere in the city.
Council also approved legislation that gives Tax Increment Financing on the project.
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.
In this case, the TIF would be used for public improvements, including the new cul-de-sac and the public parking.
The TIF is expected to raise $600,000 over 30 years. Any money left after the initial improvements would go to other public improvements in Highland Square, Roth said.