Stow -- A proposed change to site plans for a planned Meijer department store in the Stow-Kent Shopping Center would reduce the size of the store by more than 30,000 square feet.

The city's planning commission approved 4-0 with one absence a recommendation for approval of a revised site plan that would reduce the store's size from 192,940 square feet that was approved in 2014 to 159,253 square feet. Commission member David Kohlmeier was absent.

The revision is scheduled to go before City Council's planning committee May 25 for possible inclusion on the regular meeting's agenda later that evening.

City Planning Director Rob Kurtz said the revision would also move the store 89 feet to the east, to 169 feet from the west property line with the Stow-Glen Retirement Village. This is to include a 50-foot buffer between the shopping center and Stow-Glen where existing vegetation, including evergreen trees along the property line will remain. Additional landscaping and screening is also planned, said Kurtz.

Kurtz told the Stow Sentry after the meeting that the change is partially to satisfy concerns by Stow-Glen about the closeness of the planned store to the property line, but also because an underground natural gas pipeline easement along the west boundary limits construction on that side.

In addition, the revised site plan eliminates a 2,500-square-foot Meijer convenience store/gas station on a site now occupied by a Wendy's restaurant on the north side of Kent Road, as well as a parking lot behind the Meijer store.

Commission member William Ross said his "yes" vote was given "reluctantly" because he would have liked to see more green space.

"I think that's what our residents have asked for, soften these places up, and I don't see that happening here," he said.

Kurtz said the revised plan increases the green open space of the overall shopping center, which includes planned traffic islands in the Meijer parking lot the size of four spaces, from just under 20 percent to 27 percent. For just the Meijer property, it increases open space from nearly 28 percent to nearly 40 percent, said Kurtz..

"It's a huge improvement," said commission member Chris Brauer.

"It fits on the property better than the previous plan," added Commission President Rich Sprungle.

Meijer completed the purchase of its portion of the plaza from Stow-Kent Associates for nearly $3.79 million in December, according to Summit County property records.

The Meijer store will be about 800 feet from Kent Road. Stow-Kent Associates still owns a portion of the plaza closest to the road, the Wendy's restaurant, and the Macy's department store property just west of the Meijer site.

Rob Risman, a principal in Stow-Kent Associates, told the Stow Sentry in March that the gas station could not be built now because the Wendy's restaurant exercised lease options last fall that will allow it to remain in the site for up to another 10 years.

Plan to open in 2019

The Meijer store is to include various departments, including grocery, a drive-thru pharmacy and an outdoor garden center. A 55,000-square-foot portion of the plaza now occupied by a Big Lots store is expected to be demolished next year to make way for additional parking space for Meijer. About 89,500 square feet of vacant space at the rear of the plaza was demolished several years ago.

Meijer Real Estate Manager Cris Jones told the commission that underground utility work is expected to start in July, but the start of construction will have to wait until after the Big Lots lease expires at the end of next January because construction would "impede" Big Lots business, something the lease prohibits.

"We plan to open in spring of [2019]," Jones told the Stow Sentry after the meeting.

Risman said the nearly 34,000 square feet of retail space closest to Kent Road, including stores facing Kent Road and a Fitworks gym behind them, will undergo extensive exterior renovation beginning this spring.

"It's going to look very nice," he said.

Kurtz said preliminary work on the renovation has started.

According to Meijer's website, the family-owned company owns about 230 stores on Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois , Kentucky and Wisconsin. Jones said that most of Meijer's 41 Ohio stores are in the Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton areas, but the company is considering a number of other locations in Northeast Ohio, including Brimfield, where he said Meijer is in negotiations with the developer of the 120-acre Maplecrest Golf Club property. Jones also said that Meijer has purchased property in Avon and Mentor and has purchase agreements for property in Bainbridge, Lorain and Austintown.

Meijer was looking at a site in Northfield Center, said Jones, but has no plans there "for the present."