Akron City Council is again considering plans for a housing development in North Hill catered to veterans, the homeless and people with disabilities.
Though the apartment complex, which would mirror one currently under construction, would serve a population in need of housing, some residents and nearby property owners don’t want it in their backyards.
Joel Testa, the developer, pulled his request for the development in March after several council members raised concerns. Testa pledged at the time to bring his proposal back to council.
Council held off making a decision on the proposal Monday at the request of Councilman Jim Hurley, who wasn’t at the Monday meeting and who was among those who objected to the plans earlier this year. Hurley was elected in November to represent the new Ward 2 that is centered on North Hill and includes where the apartment building would be located.
“The stakes are high,” said Councilman Jeff Fusco, who chairs the Planning Committee. “There is a need in the community regarding the homeless. Residents have concerns. That is where council has to balance the two community needs.”
Testa, a prominent Cuyahoga Falls developer, is proposing a second phase to a 60-unit apartment building called the Commons at Madaline Park that is currently under construction on Brownstone Avenue, south of Longstone Avenue. The proposed three-story apartment building would serve the same population. Testa said it would not be as large as the first one because it would not have the extra space for services that will be part of the first one.
The first Commons and 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 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.
Council is now considering five pieces of legislation related to the proposed second apartment building. The legislation would approve plans for the building, permit the construction of water and sewer improvements and grant a utility right-of-way, and express support for an application Testa plans to submit to the state for tax credits to help pay for the development.
The legislation also would facilitate 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 would go to Testa. (This won’t cost the city any money.)
Testa plans to apply for the tax credits in February and would find out by June whether he received them. He said construction likely would start in October or February of the next year and would take about a year.
Testa says the housing would help fill a void in Akron, where 388 housing units are needed for the homeless, according to the Continuum of Care, an umbrella group of agencies that serve the homeless and other struggling populations.
“They expect to lease this up right away,” Testa said.
Residents and council members have questioned the lack of sidewalks on Brownstone and potential increased traffic to the area from the new apartment complex.
Willie Smith, an Akron resident, questioned during the public comment period why the apartment complex is proposed for North Hill, rather than the central city where the residents would be closer to transportation and the services they need.
Testa said the increase in traffic would be minimal because most of the residents don’t drive and the apartment building will provide them with a free bus. He said Community Support Services, a partner on the project, would provide numerous services in the first apartment building, which would include a pharmacy, medical exam rooms and space for job training.
In other business, council opted to swear in two council members early to make sure that Ward 2 residents wouldn’t be unrepresented for the next month after Councilman Bruce Kilby resigned Nov. 30 for pension reasons. Kilby ran for an at-large council seat in November and lost.
Council President Garry Moneypenny said he heard from a North Hill resident upset about the proposed apartment complex who also wasn’t happy to be without a council representative. Moneypenny had planned to have Ward 2 residents call the council clerk’s office or an at-large representative for the last month of the year, but then reconsidered.
“I think this is much cleaner and doesn’t put 20,000 residents without local representation,” Moneypenny said.
Rich Swirsky, who represents the new Ward 1 that is mostly centered in Highland Square, took the oath of office Monday evening. Hurley, who knew he wouldn’t be at Monday’s meeting, was sworn in Friday.
The rest of the council members will take the oath of office at the last meeting of the year on Dec. 16.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.