FAIRLAWN — The city Planning Commission on Thursday gave conditional final 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 from neighboring Bath Township residents, 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 approved a final site plan for that location. Members approved a preliminary site plan last month.

“This is still our plan B site at this moment in time,” Crystal Clinic Orthopaedic Center President and CEO Ronald Suntken said Thursday.

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 has said if the three-story 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 forward with a vote if Crystal Clinic decides to move its center to the corporate park.

Thursday’s approval of the final site plan is contingent on City Council approving the rezoning. The approval is also contingent on future traffic improvements and the material for planned walking trails around the development connecting with other future trails in the corporate park being either concrete or asphalt.

“Council will not vote on a rezoning until there's a signed purchase agreement, you know, if this should come to fruition at this site,” Fairlawn Mayor Bill Roth said of the rezoning.

Roth and Fairlawn City Council President and at-large member Russ Sharnsky both said they support the project at either location.

“We welcome the clinic's investment in our city, either site that it goes to,” Roth said. “We determined it's something that's beneficial to not only our community but the surrounding areas. I think this is for the public good. We do welcome the investment."

Fairlawn City Council Ward 6 representative Kathleen Baum said she wants to see “plan B move up to plan A” — meaning Crystal Clinic selecting the Fairlawn Corporate Park location.

“I think it would be wonderful to have it on this side of town,” she said Thursday.

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. Summit County Common Pleas Judge Amy Corrigall Jones in late August upheld O'Connor’s decision.

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