About 140 acres of green space will transform into industrial space in Norton after a vote Monday night by City Council, officials hope.
Council voted 6-1 on a plan to buy the land from Summit Metro Parks for about $1.26 million to add developable property to the city of 12,000 residents.
Once the deal is complete, the land will most likely be zoned for light industrial use, said Norton Administrator Robert Fowler, who called approval of the deal "very exciting."
“There is a lack of industrial space in the county, in this region,” Fowler said Monday. “The goal is to try to capitalize on that.”
Stephanie Walton, chief of marketing and communications with Summit Metro Parks, said the land was once considered for a southern park in the county, but became superfluous after the park district acquired Nimisila Reservoir from the state.
“We were able to achieve that goal of adding a park at a significantly lower cost,” Walton said Monday in a phone interview. She said state law requires that park land being sold first be offered to the municipality in which it's located.
Norton’s acquisition didn’t come without opposition.
In the April 15 council committee work session, Union Street resident Tanya Vanderveen spoke against the development.
“These decisions that you’re going to make are going to directly affect my home …,” Vanderveen said. “It’s going to affect our property value, our livelihood.”
Michael Stack, also a Union Street resident, was more direct.
“I want you guys to know you’re destroying my value,” Stack said. “I built a beautiful home, and it’s going to be destroyed.”
Fowler said he and council are mindful of residents’ concerns.
“Normally I’m not an advocate for green space development,” Fowler said.
But the site, he said, is bordered by industrial usage on three sides, and land is in short supply for new and expanding businesses.
“We, as a city have to make sure we provide our citizens with the services they want, but it comes at a cost,” Fowler said. “We really lack locations that have the ability to be developed.”
Councilwoman Charlotte Whipkey said that opposition was concentrated among residents who live near the site. She, too, sees development of the property as vital to Norton’s interests.
“We do need to get business in here,” she said
Whipkey said the benefits of new businesses and the jobs they bring far outweigh any positives of passing on the land deal.
In the past, council has been perceived by some critics as being unfriendly toward businesses that wanted to build in Norton.
“The reality of life is that we have to do it,” Whipkey said before the vote. “We’ve missed a lot of opportunities in Norton for one reason or another.”
Owning the land will give the city control over its development and help Norton address residents’ concerns.
Whipkey said suggestions from some residents go too far, including one proposal for a buffer of more than 300 feet. But she echoed Fowler, arguing that ownership of the property will help the city guide its development.
“I’ve listened to many complaints and in a lot of the cases, we understand and we feel for you,” Whipkey said about opponents of the purchase. “We want control over it so we can do a better job [of developing it].”
Most of the land zoned for industrial usage in Summit County is concentrated in the north, according to county records. A map of industrial parks lists only two sites with available space in the southwest part of the county, giving Norton an advantage among neighboring communities. Fowler said the cost to developers should spur interest, with the asking price for property a fraction of what’s sought in Hudson, for instance.
“We’re going to be at about $20,000 an acre,” Fowler said. In Hudson, an acre of industrial property can run as high as $100,000.
The site should yield the desired employment, too.
“I’m hopeful it will bring high-paying middle class jobs,” he said.
Whipkey said she expects the property to generate more funds from jobs and taxes than the price the city paid for it.
“If we were to pass this up, it would be a very huge mistake on our part,” Whipkey said before council’s vote. “It’s Norton’s time to shine.”
Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow him on Twitter, go to @newsalanbeaconjournal.