November 23, 2014

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Open land spurs rezoning debate

AMHERST TWP. —  About 98 acres of vacant land near the Ohio Turnpike could become the county’s next business district, if a group of local investors have its way.
But, first voters must decide whether the land should be rezoned to fit that need.
Despite receiving unanimous support from the Amherst Township Zoning Commission and a 2-to-1 vote in favor of the rezoning by the township trustees, a vote by the people was forced when a petition calling for a referendum made its way to the Lorain County Board of Elections.
Trustee David Urig, who was the lone dissenting vote, pushed the petition because he saw the rezoning measure as too much for the township.
“It’s going to start to encroach on residential property,” Urig said. “We have land zoned general business that already goes back a quarter mile off (state Route) 58. This proposal will take it back a half-mile from 58, and that is just too much. Why create some more of what we already have too much of?”
Currently, 55.7 acres of the land is zoned mixed-use, and 42.7 acres is zoned residential/agricultural. The vote would allow the land to be zoned general business and join an existing general business district of roughly 40 acres.
According to a newsletter that went out to all township residents, the rezoning is in keeping with the spirit of the state Route 58 corridor studies.
The land, located east of state Route 58 and south of the Ohio Turnpike, is owned by a group known as Consolidated Investors Group and was purchased roughly 27 years ago, said Steven Luca, a local business owner and CIG managing partner.
Only recently did the group decide the property would be best suited for commercial development. Its proximity to the Ohio Turnpike seemed ideal to promote a retail district, Luca said.
The group worked hard in recent months to get the parcel rezoned in an effort to bring national retailers to the area. Luca said potential developers typically look to areas that are at least 100 acres or more for development.
However, the zoning referendum has stopped all talk of development.
“In our mind, it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved,” Luca said. “Economic development is good for a lot of areas, especially in Lorain County. This area is going to grow and if we have controlled growth, it will be better for the township.”
Luca said there are many advantages to rezoning, including the potential for a retail center inside the township, creation of more jobs and an increase in the commercial tax base that could alleviate the tax burden on residents.
Yet, many believe the cons outweigh the pros.
Bob Maurer of Oberlin Road lives about a quarter mile from the area and sees development as an intrusion on his quality of life.
“The township should grow at a slow place, not a fast pace,” he said. “No one wants noise pollution, crime and high traffic in the area, but that’s what you get with retail development. I’d rather drive to the rat race than have it in my own backyard.”
Urig said the proposal also does not take into account what could happen in the years to come if the area is rezoned.
“Whether you’re talking about big box or small box stores, nobody cares to think about what that property is going to look like in 20 or 30 years when the retail fad changes,” Urig said.
However, one thing is certain. The area will not become home to any type of adult businesses.
A restriction written into the land deed prohibits adult entertainment. It’s a provision that was added after residents voiced concerns during the public hearings held prior to the trustees’ vote.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 653-6268 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.