The owners of Rosemont Commons – the current home of Walmart and Sam’s Club – took to the stand Friday in a Summit County courtroom to defend their effort to protect their Fairlawn shopping center.
But they denied there was any conspiracy with the city of Fairlawn to close Rothrock Road to block access to a proposed site in Copley Township where the retailer wants to build new stores.
The Fairlawn City Council authorized Mayor Bill Roth to shut down the city’s portion of Rothrock Road after learning about the intention of Walmart and Sam’s Club to relocate about a mile west in the township. The proposed site is on 40 acres of undeveloped land on Rothrock Road.
The city wants to close Rothrock just west of Sawgrass Drive near Cleveland Massillon Road. Copley Township along with Fairlawn resident Jacob Pollock of Bunker Drive off Smith Road are suing to keep the road open.
“Nobody likes to lose tenants, although that is the nature of our business, having tenants, losing tenants and getting new tenants. We are opposed to a lot going on, but we are not opposed to them moving,” said developer Herb Newman, who has partnered with Robert Stark on several real estate developments including Rosemont Commons.
“I don’t care if it’s Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target or Kohl’s as long as everyone does their job and assumes their civic responsibility and proper planning as far as maintaining the proper level of traffic,” Stark said. “I have no control over where Walmart and Sam’s Club goes. Their leases are almost up.”
The developers say they are concerned about what will happen to traffic in the Montrose area should the new development move forward.
“Our assets will be decimated and that’s why we are opposed to this, as we should be,” Newman said. “The traffic will create a calamity and will jeopardize our million square feet of development.”
Newman said with a major development comes traffic, and he was worried that some of their other tenants might abandon Rosemont Commons because of the new stores to the west.
“When we built on West Market Street we widened the street from four lanes to seven, not just in front of our centers, but from Smith Road to Cleveland Massillon Road,” Newman said. “We did that to improve the infrastructure so our clientele, the shoppers, would be able to get to our centers.”
He said the development on Rothrock Road should be made to do the same – expand Rothrock Road beyond its present two lanes.
When asked why he wrote so many letters to virtually every government agency that had anything to do with the review of the plans for the new development, Newman said he was very concerned with traffic congestion and the potential problems created by water run.
Newman said he had first-hand knowledge of water issues in the area because of his and Stark’s work to develop other properties in the area, including Rosemont Ridge, the Enclave and the Rosemont Country Club.
He also testified that many of the emails he sent to Roth addressing the closure of Rothrock Road as well as the appeal over the environmental issue, which Stark Enterprises is picking up the legal fees for, were unsolicited by the mayor.
Copley township legal counsel Irv Sugerman asked Stark if it was true that he called Copley trustees “money-grabbing carpet baggers.”
“I don’t know if I used all of those words,” Stark said. “But it’s certainly what I feel and it’s probably close to accurate in terms of what I said and what I believe.”
Later during testimony, Stark said, “Copley is a money-grabbing community that doesn’t care what it does to its neighbors.”
Testimony in the bench trial before Common Pleas Judge Alison McCarty will resume on Friday.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.