Stow -- The city is clearing the way for the construction of a 220-unit condominium development just northeast of the Gilbert Road and Gilbert Lane intersection.

City Council approved 6-0 on Dec. 8 a site plan and conditional zoning certificate for the development on slightly more than 70 acres behind the Hudson Drive Wal-Mart. Councilor Brian Lowdermilk was absent.

City Planning Director Rob Kurtz said during Council's Dec. 8 planning committee meeting, before the regular meeting, that the land is zoned R-2 and R-3 residential, with planned residential developments, such as the planned condo development, conditionally allowed in both zoning districts.

The development is to include 55 four-condominium buildings, including 41 one-story buildings and 14 two-story buildings, with units ranging between about 1,500 and 1,600 square feet in size.

Peter Acker, representing Girard, Ohio-based Universal Development, the project's developer, said during the planning committee meeting that each unit is expected to be sold for about $200,000 and that the project, to be built in phases over four to five years, will be an investment "well in excess of $20 million."

He said a homeowners association will be set up and will be responsible for such things as landscaping, road maintenance and snowplowing. Universal Development, he said, has policies that provide for a smooth transition in control between the developer and the association, as well as to ensure that the association has the funding it needs.

Access to the development would be via a private drive to be built from Gilbert Road, with a bridge over Mudbrook Stream, and an emergency road, for emergency vehicles only, from Homewood Drive.

Acker said the emergency road will be gated with a chain on it so that non-emergency traffic will not drive through residential areas to use it. Fire Chief Mark Stone said during the planning committee meeting that emergency vehicles would typically use the main entrance, but if the emergency entrance needs to be used, the chain will not prove a hindrance.

"We have numerous tools that can cut most anything and we would make quick access through there," he said.

About 31.7 acres, or 45 percent of the property, is to be set aside for open space, and planned amenities include a clubhouse, about 4,000 feet of walking trails and a dog park consisting of two fenced areas.

In response of concerns by residents living to the south, Council amended the ordinance granting approval of the site plan and conditional zoning certificate to stipulate that the trails and dog park could not be lighted.

Acker said during the planning committee meeting that the developer has no issue with this, since the company does not light either dog parks or trails within its developments anyway.

Residents pleased with responses

Acker said Universal Development is trying to accommodate resident concerns as best it can. This includes positioning most buildings 200 to 300 feet away from the south property line and away from homes there, well outside the 50-foot minimum required under city ordinances. He said stormwater controls will prevent an increase in water flow and could even decrease flow from what it is now. In addition, with residents of Universal Development's projects tending to be "empty nesters and senior citizens," traffic should be light.

"We do not have significant traffic, [we] never have at any of our projects in Ohio and Pennsylvania." said Acker, adding later that the developer is actively seeking to keep what traffic there is out of the existing residential neighborhood.

"We're spending a not insignificant amount of money to access the site from Gilbert Road," he said.

Several residents expressed concern about, though not opposition to the project during the planning committee meeting.

Brookside Road resident David Rapini said he had concerns about lighting at the planned dog park, which is on a site overlooking residences below. Rapini also said he was worried about pesticide use in greenspace near the residential area.

Acker said this should not be an issue, since the greenspace nearest the residential area will be largely untouched, with few trees cleared, unless erosion preventives are needed.

"It's our intention to leave the greenspace natural, period," he said.

Rapini said he and his neighbors "think [Universal Development is] a respectable developer and we're pretty happy with what they've said," but the residents wanted assurances.

Caleb Avenue resident Nathan Gilley said he is concerned about the access drive from Gilbert Road crossing Mudbrook Stream near his home. Acker said the developer would attempt to move the bridge as far away from Gilley's home as possible and "screen his house to the extent possible." Gilley said he was satisfied with the answer.

"It helps to clarify," he said.

Acker said Universal Development has "been good neighbors in every municipality we've been in and we expect to be good neighbors in Stow."

"The last thing we want are neighbors to the south to be calling the city and calling the Council members and calling the mayor and complaining about our project," said Acker. "We don't want them calling us either. We're good neighbors. We direct our lights away from them to the extent possible. We blacken the sides of lights that would otherwise shine on them. We put buffers in there. There are still lots of trees in there, in good partsWho wants to cut trees if you don't have to cut trees?"

Planning commission imposes conditions

The city's planning commission approved a recommendation on Nov. 15 that Council approve the site plan and conditional zoning certificate. The recommendations, however, were contingent upon a lengthy list of conditions.

Conditions attached to the recommendation involve stormwater controls, including a determination that the planned bridge will not impede water flow in the stream; construction of a sidewalk along Gilbert Road; the privatization of the short, dead-end Gilbert Lane; the establishment of a homeowner's association; and typical reviews and approvals of plans by the city's engineering, planning, and fire departments, as well as of landscaping plans by the city's arborist.

Councilor Bob Adaska, whose Ward 4 constituents include the residents near the project site, thanked Universal Development for bringing the project to Stow and thanked both the developer and the residents for their patience.

"I want you to know," he told residents during the planning committee meeting, "that I've been watching every aspect of this, trying to protect your rights through this process, but at the same time, the property [rights] of the owner, too."


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