They call it development.

I call it a crime.

You may have read reporter Rick Armon's story about two hefty building projects underway in Copley on 20 acres directly across state Route 18 from the Cleveland Clinic Akron General facility.

A $30 million senior center is under construction along with a $5 million retail plaza that will contain a fitness center, a craft beer/pizza place, a nail salon, a medical spa and other tenants to be determined.

Nothing wrong with that. The land is zoned for that type of thing, and any developer would covet the location for both ease of access and the area's upscale demographics.

The problem is this: The company that is developing the senior complex, Omni Senior Living of Beachwood, just clear-cut the entire hillside.

As of last week, not a single tree is standing on a vast area that for decades consisted of heavy woodlands.

When you travel along Heritage Woods Drive today, you can see all the way up the hill to the lower portion of the water tower. Strewn with black, twisted limbs and trunks, the hillside looks like post-World War II Dresden.

Now, I am well aware that wiping out a huge group of trees is cheaper than trying to identify and retain some of the best ones. But I guarantee you that nobody who will live at or visit the senior complex, and nobody who will work at or patronize the plaza, wouldn't rather see some mature trees.

At the very least, the developer could have left a few groupings of large trees and a 30- or 40-foot-wide buffer strip alongside Heritage Woods Drive.

Houses and condos have been in place for decades on Heritage Woods — including directly across the street — and the neighbors are almost universally shocked and angry.

The president of Omni Senior Living, Mario Sinicariello, said he understands their feelings but claims they will feel much better when they see the finished product.

When asked whether preserving some trees would have been cost-prohibitive, he replied: “I don't know if it's an issue of cost. I think it's an issue of development. We're building a very nice project there and when it is done it will look beautiful.”

In an unsolicited follow-up call, Alex Vasickanin, an Omni project manager, said cost is indeed a factor, because bringing in utilities is cheaper if there's absolutely nothing in the way.

“When I first got caught up in this business,” he said, “I was ...  a tree-hugger, and I wouldn't take down trees and do that kind of thing. But then after you start building, there's not a big other way of doing it.”

You don't have to be a “tree-hugger” to think a hill with some trees looks better than a hill with zero trees.

When I pointed out that plenty of housing developments are constructed around large groups of mature trees, he said, “You can do it, but that's when you're working with more land. Usually you see it the opposite way.”

He agreed that the hillside looks horrible but says grass will be planted in the spring and insists this is standard operating procedure. “I can totally see [residents'] concern, but that's the way it always has to go so you can do the project easy.”

As if “easy” is better.

Hands tied

Copley Director of Community & Economic Development Matt Springer said the township couldn't have done much to prevent the slaughter.

Townships and counties do have the ability to prevent blatant clear-cutting. In 2012, Copley adopted tree preservation and landscaping standards that require at least a 50 percent preservation for residential sites. But for commercial sites, the developer is only required to preserve areas that are not being used for “improvements,” such as buildings, parking lots, roads, sidewalks, utilities and stormwater basins.

The senior complex, called Vitalia Senior Residences at Montrose, is doing all of the above, and cramming in 35 villas on the hillside, in addition to a huge central building and eight other villas already under construction at the top of the hill.

According to a preliminary landscaping plan provided by Springer, new greenery will be introduced after construction, but the vast majority will be shrubs. It calls for planting only 25 trees taller than 6 feet.

Springer said he will push the developer to do more once construction is finished. “We intend to seek additional trees and landscaping ... along Heritage Woods Drive once the retention basin is installed and the site is no longer being disturbed.”

Omni President Sinicariello said the landscaping plan in Copley's hands is preliminary and will likely change.

Project manager Vasickanin went even further.

“If we need to, we'll put in whatever people want,” he vowed. “We want to make everybody happy. Nobody wants upset neighbors.”

Well, that ship has sailed.

 

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or bdyer@thebeaconjournal.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.