CUYAHOGA FALLS — Another step for a housing development in a rural area of the city near the national park has been approved by city planners.

The Planning Commission on May 1 voted 4-0 in favor of a 40.8-acre, 40-lot final subdivision plat on Sourek Trail between Smith and Sand Run roads in the former Northampton Township part of the city. Ryan Homes is planning to construct homes on 36 suburban type lots, according to the planning department’s staff report. Additionally, there are four large lots that will be sold to individuals who plan to choose their own home builders. 

This is the first phase of the development. It will now go to City Council for its approval. City Council’s Planning and Zoning Committee will discuss the issue on May 21. A preliminary subdivision was approved by Planning Commission and council in March despite objections raised by many nearby residents. They voiced concerns about additional traffic and potential flooding of property that may be caused by the development. Additionally, they felt the project to build homes on quarter-acre lots would conflict with the rural character of the area.

About 10 residents attended the Planning Commission meeting on May 1, where the commission’s approval came with multiple conditions, including asking the fire, engineering and service departments to reconsider their opposition to closing Sourek Trail with adjoining, gated cul-de-sacs.  

Planning Director Fred Guerra said city officials had considered requiring the cul-de-sacs to keep traffic from existing homes to the north. However, city departments are opposed to building cul-de-sacs due to "fire and city service concerns," the staff report stated. 

"There could be a problem with getting emergency vehicles in and out," Guerra said.

Guerra told the Falls News-Press on May 9 that the fire department had not yet re-examined the cul-de-sacs issue.

The commission asked the fire department to re-assess cul-de-sacs after hearing from some residents and the city councilman representing them.

Resident Andrew Holland expressed frustration with the suggested cul-de-sacs being rejected and questioned how residents can have a say in the process.

"We’re baffled," said Holland. "We keep getting scissored apart with three minutes to speak, speak to this person. We really don’t understand what the process is to carry things forward."

Regarding the cul-de-sacs not being put in the plan, Holland asked, "why not? who can we talk to?" 

Commission chairman Dan Rice said, "I’m not hearing ‘no’ (on the cul-de-sacs). I’m hearing concerns from the safety forces."  

He noted that Guerra said he will host public meetings where residents will have a chance to share their concerns.

"It’s not a done deal," said Rice.

City Councilman Russ Iona (R-8) said he and some other council members want the cul-de-sacs "to solve the traffic problems."

He noted there is technology available where emergency responders could use a button to open a gate between the cul-de-sacs.

"I would definitely not support anything that doesn’t have cul-de-sacs for this project," said Iona, who noted the developer and other city officials supported the cul-de-sacs. "I think we should bring (the) fire (department) on board. I understand that (losing) 30 seconds could be life-threatening, but with today’s technology, I think we could shrink that 30 seconds to where a button could open the gate."

Resident Dr. William Shaheen noted he previously lived in an Akron neighborhood where there were barriers that did not prevent safety forces from accessing the area.

"There is precedent," added Shaheen.

Officials are looking at the possibility of establishing a Tax Increment Financing agreement that would use property taxes generated by the new homes for infrastructure improvements including work on Sourek Trail, said Guerra.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.