STOW -- The city has removed zoning obstacles to allow for the construction of a proposed assisted living facility on Allen Road.

City Council approved an ordinance on Jan. 26 to allow assisted living facilities in I-1 limited industrial districts, as well as a second ordinance to change the I-2 industrial zoning of nearly eight vacant acres on Allen Road, site of the proposed facility across the street from the Cleveland Clinic-Akron General Medical Center, to I-1 limited industrial.

Both votes were 4-2, with Councilors John Pribonic, Jim Costello, Brian D'Antonio and Bob Adaska voting in favor and Council Vice President Matt Riehl and Councilor Brian Lowdermilk voting against. Council President Mike Rasor was absent.

The ordinances were introduced for first reading Dec. 8 and Council conducted two public hearings, one for each ordinance, on Jan. 26, before the regular meeting.

Beachwood-based Omni Senior Living is the proposed project's developer. Omni partner Tom Finley told Council on Dec. 8 that it is a $15 million to $17 million project, with the facility having up to 132 beds, including a 20 to 25 bed memory care unit. He said that after the second year in operation, the facility is projected to have a "roughly" $1.6-million payroll.

Finley said during the Jan. 26 public hearing on the ordinance to permit assisted living facilities in I-1 districts that Omni is hiring an architect and hopes to bring site plans to the city's planning commission soon.

"We're just excited to get this process going," said Finley.

Fire Chief Mark Stone, also on Dec. 8, told Council he is not concerned about increased call volume to the facility because the the nearest station, on Hudson Drive, is the least busy of the department's three stations, handling less than 20 percent of calls.

Only one resident spoke during the public hearings. During the same hearing that Finley spoke, Gilbert Road resident Paul Zuravel questioned whether the city should be making changes to its zoning codes for a single developer.

"I'm not opposed to development in the city and, you know, I know we need the income tax base," said Zuravel. "But to me, with this project, it looks like the [city's] planning department has used a scalpel with the tenacity of a surgeon, tearing apart the zoning code or changing it, to make the project work. Assisted living was always a residential use and now, you know, changing many parts of the code to make this project fit in an industrial area. If you think that's OK, I don't think that's the way things were handled in the past."

Planning Director Rob Kurtz countered Zuravel's objection by saying that it is common for zoning changes to be made at the request of single individuals or developers and the current situation is "not unusual at all."

Kurtz has said it makes sense to rezone the property to I-1 because it makes the property's zoning consistent with both Akron General and the Northeast Ohio Eye Surgeons facility immediately to the south of the assisted living site.

He has also said I-1 would be more appropriate for assisted living facilities because I-2 districts allow for heavier industry.

Adaska, who represents Ward 4, which includes Allen Road, said just before voting on the ordinances that the facility would also be consistent with what the city has talked about in the past of creating a medical corridor along Allen Road.

"This sort of goes in line with what the city has talked about over the years," he said.

D'Antonio said he believes an assisted living facility would be appropriate at the site.

"It's a good project for the area," he said. "It fits in well between the Cleveland Clinic-Akron General, as well as the [eye clinic] over there."

But Lowdermilk and Riehl questioned placing an assisted living facility in an industrial zoning district.

"I'm not sure a limited industrial is where we want to see assisted living or residential-type units," said Lowdermilk.

"I'm all for development in the city, but I don't think an industrial area is a place where you put a senior citizen's home," said Riehl.

Lowdermilk suggested that this may be a situation where the city should look at the bigger picture.

"I think the proper thing, probably at the time when we decided we wanted a hospital, what I really would like to see when we make a decision to go one way, let's look at the whole area around it instead of doing parcel-by-parcel-type stuff," said Lowdermilk.


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