Akron might have found a way to appease a vocal group of North Hill residents who do not want an apartment complex in their backyards.
Rather than apartments, houses would be built in the close-knit neighborhood that includes Sorin and Vane avenues. The apartment complex would be built a block away on Brownstone Avenue, in an area that already includes apartments and commercial properties.
Akron leaders are hoping their new plan will be the answer to a year-and-a-half-long dispute that resulted in three proposed locations for the apartment complex, two lawsuits against the city and residents banding together in protest, including circulating a petition that 150 people signed.
“This is a win-win for everyone,” said Planning Director John Moore, who has been looking for a way to make this project work.
A public hearing on the revised proposal will be held at 2:30 p.m. Monday at Akron City Council’s Planning Committee meeting and at council’s regular meeting at 7 p.m.
Residents in the Sorin and Vane neighborhood appear to be OK with the new plan. A few attended a recent Planning Commission meeting, where they asked questions but didn’t voice objections.
“It’s a much better option for us,” said Robert Hug, a longtime resident of Vane.
Hug was among the residents who were vehemently opposed to the original proposal to rezone 5.8 acres at the south end of Vane, north of Evans Avenue, from industrial to multifamily to permit construction of a 60-apartment complex for the homeless, veterans and the disabled. Residents quickly mobilized. They held meetings, circulated a petition, wrote letters to the mayor and wore buttons to council meetings.
Council chucked the plan in March 2011, and city leaders and those leading the effort for the development went back to the drawing board.
Mayor Don Plusquellic announced a new plan four months later to build the apartment complex in front of the Job Center at 1040 Tallmadge Ave. It turned out, however, that Summit County doesn’t own all of the property in that area, so the site was discarded.
Moore came up with the newest location, though this one also wasn’t a simple solution.
The apartment complex could be built on part of the city-owned Smith Park at the end of Brownstone Avenue, south of Longstone Avenue. Akron would buy four acres at the end of Sorin from property owner George George and sell the Smith Park property to Joel Testa, the developer of the apartment complex, for the same price as the Sorin parcel. (That way, the exchange would not cost the city.)
The city would make the end of Sorin a cul-de-sac, build five houses and leave the rest of the property wooded or as a park, providing a buffer for the neighborhood to the rest of the undeveloped property in the area.
The hitch: the North Akron Board of Trade sold the Smith Park property to the city in 1954 with the understanding it would remain a park. Moore talked to board of trade officials, who agreed in writing to the city’s plan, as long as the property at the end of Sorin remains a park.
Testa was on board with the location switch, as long as the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which is providing tax credits for the apartment complex, agreed. Plusquellic called the state agency, which was OK with the site change.
“We would have preferred to be on Vane/Sorin,” Testa said. “Given the opposition, it was prudent for everybody to look at it to make everybody happy. This is a good compromise.”
George, who owns the four acres at the end of Sorin and 16 more acres in the area, also supports the new plan.
“We think it’s a wonderful way to address the community’s concerns and let the development move forward,” said Jim Simon, George’s attorney.
For the project to progress, council must approve legislation that will allow the apartment complex to be built on the Smith Park property. The city plans to keep the rest of the park as it is, per its agreement with the board of trade, according to Moore.
The city is still negotiating with George on the sale of the Sorin parcel. (Testa held an option to buy the property.)
Even if council approves the new plan, it is unclear how the remainder of George’s property would be developed and what would happen with the two lawsuits against Akron.
Also, complaints filed with federal agencies by a local agency that advocates for the rights of the disabled are pending.
City leaders are hoping the lawsuits, with the new proposal, will go away.
The lawsuit filed by George and Testa, objecting to the city refusing to grant a building permit for the project, might disappear because it would be moot with the plans moving forward, albeit in a different spot.
The case filed by residents, though, might not. Residents argue the original single-family zoning for all of the George property should trump plans approved in the 1970s to allow apartments. They think any new proposal for this property should be approved by council, giving the opportunity for public input.
Moore said he isn’t aware of any plans for the rest of George’s property. He said nothing is pending with the city for any development.
Simon, George’s attorney, said he is “not aware of anything intended for the remaining property.”
The Tri-County Independent Living Center’s concerns about the plans for the apartment complex, called the Commons at Madaline Park, won’t be addressed with the potential site change. The group’s focus isn’t the location; it’s the proposed population for the complex.
The complex would include 30 units for the chronically homeless, 24 for people with multiple disabilities and six for veterans, who also might qualify under the other two categories.
Rose Juriga, executive director of the independent living center, said this makeup violates the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Act by segregating people with disabilities. She filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Justice Department.
Juriga attended a recent meeting with Testa and others about plans for the complex. She said the meeting was cordial but didn’t nullify her organization’s concerns. She said it probably would take several years for the federal agencies to decide her complaints.
“What will happen down the road, I don’t know,” she said. “They can build it and, in four or five years, have to integrate it. That’s a possibility.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com.