FAIRLAWN — The city Planning Commission on Thursday gave initial approval to an alternate site plan for operators of an orthopedic hospital whose first site choice sparked a drawn-out legal fight from a neighboring community.

But the process and location remain a fallback for Crystal Clinic, which is moving ahead with its preferred location at 3557 Embassy Parkway.

The planning commission has already given final approval for that site plan, and construction has begun there for the Crystal Clinic Orthopaedic Center.

In the face of legal challenges, the clinic has been preparing a backup location at 951 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road in the Fairlawn Corporate Park.

The five-member planning commission on Thursday unanimously approved a preliminary site plan for that site. Members will still need to vote on a final site review in the future.

“This site is our plan B site,” Crystal Clinic Orthopaedic Center president and CEO Ronald Suntken told the planning commission Thursday. “We're still proceeding on our plan A site, but this is our backup plan, so we're trying to put everything in order that if we need to go this direction, then we'll be prepared to do that.”

Crystal Clinic announced plans last year to build a 160,000-square-foot orthopedic facility with 12 operating rooms and 60 inpatient beds in Fairlawn.

The project has faced fierce opposition from Bath homeowners whose properties abut the Embassy Parkway site. Their objections include the height of the facility, which would be one of the tallest buildings in the city at nearly 50 feet high, with another 10 feet of mechanical equipment on the roof.

Other concerns include light and sound pollution, decreasing property values, safety issues and concerns with patients being able to look into their homes and yards.

According to the clinic, the specialty orthopedic elective-based acute care facility would include 24-hour care, but there would be limited hours for elective inpatient and outpatient surgery, with no dedicated emergency department or helipad, limited ambulance traffic and no on-site retail pharmacy.

Principal and vice president Paul Widlarz with the project's Wisconsin-based architecture firm HGA said if the building were constructed in the corporate park, it would be similar to the planned Embassy Parkway building. The only significant change would be the location.

The proposed 14.8-acre backup site is on Cleveland-Massillon Road, just north of the Ridgewood Road intersection. Its southern boundary is roughly in line with Southwestern Boulevard in the corporate park.

The property sits along Fairlawn’s shared boundary with Copley Township, near Copley High School.

Construction costs for the facility, which would include an estimated 300 new employees, are estimated at $70 million, according to the clinic’s application.

To allow facilities like the Crystal Clinic center to be built in the Fairlawn Corporate Park location, the planning commission in June unanimously approved recommending Fairlawn City Council add a new classification to the city’s zoning code to allow for specialty hospitals and rezone the 14.8 vacant acres in the corporate park to the new zoning.

The council has given the ordinance three readings, but members will only move with a vote if Crystal Clinic decides to move its center to the corporate park.

"We welcome the clinic on either site," Fairlawn Mayor Bill Roth said, adding the project would benefit "not just our community, but this whole area."

Once a new facility is complete, the clinic will move its services from space it currently leases from Summa Health at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron. The targeted completion date for the center is 2021.

Crystal Clinic has previously said in court documents it would lose millions in construction costs if the project were moved.

There are at least four cases in Summit County Common Pleas Court related to the center, but a judge has not yet made a final ruling on the matter.

In June, Chief Magistrate Kandi O’Connor denied a request for a temporary restraining order filed by attorneys for the nearby Bath homeowners to prevent construction at the Embassy Parkway site.

“I'm all for plan B. And if you noticed, there was no objection from the public. There are no residents here tonight to object,” said Bath Township resident Cindy Meyerson, whose property abuts the Embassy Parkway location. “Yet they fight on to put that hospital behind our houses and ruin the enjoyment of our properties and our property values."

Contact Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com and @EmilyMills818.