The tide may be turning in favor of a development in Highland Square that sparked protests, an arrest and dueling Facebook pages.
About 15 West Akron residents who attended an informal meeting after a committee meeting Monday afternoon raised their hands when asked if they support the revised plans for the retail/apartment building.
The supporters’ Facebook page had gathered more “likes” than the opponents’ page as of Monday evening, garnering nearly 575.
Akron City Council put off a vote on the 795 W. Market St. development until next Monday, to give council members and residents even more time to get their questions answered.
“There is a lot of passion,” said Councilman Jeff Fusco, who chairs the Planning Committee that is considering the legislation. “That is one of the best attributes of the Highland Square community. The input is appreciated.”
Opponents of the development, who organized after learning that a big ash tree would be removed to make way for the new building, didn’t attend the Planning Committee meeting Monday afternoon, though it was mentioned on the group’s website. The Save Our Big Ash Tree site, which had 436 likes as of Monday evening, now features a pile of logs for its main photo. A protester was arrested last week for initially refusing to get down from the tree, but a tree trimming company felled the tree after she was taken away, leaving only a stump and a pile of logs. At least one protester attended the Monday night meeting, but didn’t speak.
Steve Brooks, a resident of Highland Avenue, presented council members with a petition signed by 19 members of the street that borders the new development in favor of the revised plans. He said he is pleased that the city and the developers listened to and responded to residents’ concerns.
“I teach politics and it’s nice to see the system works the way it’s supposed to sometimes,” said Brooks, who is associate director of the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.
Ray Nemer and his family, who own the property, plan to move Ray’s Pub, which Ray Nemer owns, Mr. Zub’s deli and the Matinee bar, which other family members own, from across the street on West Market to the new building. The building also would have five apartments.
The Nemers have agreed to several changes to the plans for the development in response to concerns residents have raised over the last three weeks. These include:
• Adding a cul-de-sac to the south end of Highland Avenue beside the development.
• Building a lighted sidewalk between the development and the Highland Square library branch.
• Moving the trash from beside the residential side of the parking lot to the commercial part.
• Making the single row of parking behind the building one-way, with customers only able to turn right onto Casterton Avenue. The parking will be angled. Customers will access the parking from Market or Conger Avenue.
Council also will vote on legislation that would give Tax Increment Financing (TIF) 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 public improvements would go back into development in Highland Square, said Adele Roth, Akron’s development manager.
Roth said she’d like to see a merchant’s association started in Highland Square that could work on joint efforts, like adding more banners and planting flowers.
The Nemers are pleased by the growing sentiment in favor of the project.
“We are all hopeful this goes forward,” said Ray Nemer, adding that they’d like to break ground as soon as possible.
In other business, council put legislation on hold that would have provided $125,000 for a zip line along the towpath. The future prospects for the zip line are unclear in light of the firing last week of Ferris Brown, executive director of the Cascade Locks Park Association, who was pushing for the project. Brown has said the project could move forward independent of the park association.
Fusco said Monday that another local parks group is interested in taking over the project, but the plans are still being discussed.