FAIRLAWN — The Fairlawn Planning Commission on Friday again approved plans for a Crystal Clinic Orthopaedic Hospital Center.
Friday’s approval came after a Summit County judge in April ordered the commission to reconsider its past approval of the center and despite pleas from nearly a dozen neighboring Bath Township residents not to approve it during a 3½-hour meeting Friday.
“They're always very difficult decisions, and we try to represent all the parties. And we sincerely evaluated all the facts that were provided to us and deliberated and unfortunately had to make some tough decisions," Planning Commission chairperson J. Scott Rainey said after the meeting, which about 50 people attended and included two executive sessions.
Crystal Clinic announced plans last year to build a 160,000-square-foot hospital with 12 operating rooms and 60 inpatient beds off Embassy Parkway in Fairlawn.
The project has faced fierce criticism from Bath homeowners whose properties abut the Embassy Park commercial park. Their objections include the height of the facility, which will be one of the tallest buildings in the city at nearly 50 feet high, with another 10 feet of mechanical equipment on the roof.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands in April ordered the commission to reconsider whether the height of the planned hospital is compatible with the neighboring residential properties in Bath to the north and west of the site.
Rowlands noted the height isn't out of place within the business park but said the commission failed to consider the residential properties — and that to exclude those homes when making a decision "is unreasonable."
Her order, made as part of a lawsuit filed by the Crystal Shores Homeowners' Association, wiped out the five-member commission's March approval of the $100 million hospital project.
The commission — made up of Rainey, Mike Glaser, Peter Reagan, Julie Sipka and Timothy Sisler — on Friday unanimously approved motions for a building height exception from 36 feet to 50 feet, finding the increased height was compatible with all surrounding uses including residential use. They also approved a motion to approve a conditional use permit for the center.
Crystal Clinic, through attorney Christopher Swing and planning and use expert David Hartt, argued Friday that the project is compatible with surrounding uses and meets or exceeds the requirements for conditional use, citing constructing the building farther away from adjacent homes than the city requires, adding landscaping, dimming parking lot lights at night and reducing the square footage of the building.
"Compatibility is not merely a preference expressed by adjacent property owners,” said Hartt, who has 52 years of planning experience and also said he believed Rowlands was wrong in her order.
Swing also argued Rowlands could have ordered the Planning Commission to deny the request, but only required them to hold further proceedings and consider the neighbors.
"We've done that this evening,” Swing said.
Ten Bath residents spoke during Friday’s meeting, expressing concerns with the building’s height as well as with light and sound pollution, decreasing property values, safety concerns and concerns with patients being able to look into their homes and yards.
"It is definitely incompatible with our homes,” Bath resident Eric Brown said. “There isn't one of us that does medical services in our residences. There isn't one building there that does medical services. There is no compatibility in terms of height, mass or use."
Some residents showed photo projections of the view of the center from their properties, with some saying they wouldn't have bought their homes had they known the hospital would be built.
"Everyone wants this area to be prosperous and do well,” Bath resident Cindy Meyerson said. “We are all citizens of this area, but to harm your neighbors financially as well as take away the quiet enjoyment of the property we worked so hard for all of our lives is wrong. There are plenty of places where this hospital could be built without objection. That is what should happen here."
Benjamin Ockner, an attorney representing the homeowners, and Robert Brown, a land use expert for the homeowners, both said the project isn’t compatible, citing similar reasons as the residents.
Brown said although several other buildings on Embassy Parkway exceed 36 feet, as Crystal Clinic requested for its center, all but one of those buildings is on the other side of the parkway, sitting between the parkway and Interstate 77 rather than on the side adjacent to the Bath homes.
"These characteristics of the site and the proposed development raise serious questions under the zoning code standards for conditional use approval that lead me to conclude that the proposed clinic is not appropriate at the subject site,” said Brown, who has 45 years of experience as a city planner.
Officials with the Crystal Clinic have previously said construction on the hospital is planned to begin in June, with completion in 2021, but it’s unclear if that timeline will remain on track given pending and potential future litigation.
Rainey said he believed after Friday’s vote, “the Planning Commission’s responsibility is complete” on the project, adding he’s not sure what will happen with it next.
Bath resident Adam Meyerson said Friday’s vote was "expected," adding there will be additional legal steps coming in the future. He said he couldn’t share what those would be, but "you'll see them shortly.”
“We're very tenacious,” he said. “We never give up.”
Beacon Journal reporter Rick Armon and correspondent Jody Miller contributed to this article. Contact reporter Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.