MUNROE FALLS — Circle K’s plan to build a $3.3 million gas station/convenience store at the corner of Main Street (Route 91) and Munroe Falls Avenue took a step forward this week with the approval of a variance, and City Council will now ask residents for their feedback on the plan.
Circle K is looking to relocate from its current site at 85 S. Main St. and to close a gas station and convenience store on Bailey Road in Cuyahoga Falls, according to Savanna VanDeKamp Peet, the manager responsible for the proposed project.
The board of zoning appeals on Monday voted 4-1 in favor of a 15-foot variance on the city’s 20-foot front parking setback along Munroe Falls Avenue. The variance will allow Circle K to have its parking lot 5 feet away from the street right-of-way along Munroe Falls Avenue.
The approval of the variance is only one step in Circle K’s effort to build the station and store at 9 S. Main St. The planning commission in May voted against recommending approval of Circle K’s site plan for a conditionally permitted use. Council will ultimately have the final say on that issue. Council will have a first reading and a public hearing on the plan on June 18 at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 43 Munroe Falls Ave.
Mayor James Armstrong said at least five of the seven council members must vote in favor of the plan to overrule the planning commission’s non-recommendation. If four or fewer members cast affirmative votes, the plan would be rejected.
"It’s up to council," Armstrong said. "However council votes, I’m fine with …There are legitimate arguments on both sides of the issue … we need to make a decision."
He suggested council give the legislation three readings and allow the public a chance "to voice their views."
"I’m hoping that we get a mix of general comments [on the issue]," said Council President Jenny Markovich, who encouraged council members to ask constituents for their views on the plan.
The variance approved by the BZA on Monday was a modified version of a requested variance that was turned down by the board in October 2018. At that same meeting, eight other variances for the project were approved, but are now the subject of two different court challenges filed by the Kremer Family Revocable Trust that are still pending in Summit County Common Pleas Court.
Those variances are:
• A 3.24-foot variance on rear yard depth;
• A 25.34-foot variance on the front parking setback along Route 91;
• A 2.07-foot variance on the accessory structure setback-rear yard;
• A 22-parking space variance on off-street parking spaces at a convenience store;
• Allowing Circle K to not have interior landscaping even though the city zoning code requires it;
• A 19.45-foot variance on the corner lot free-standing sign setback (northeast corner) fronting on Munroe Falls Avenue;
• A 24.85-foot variance on the corner lot free-standing sign (northeast corner) fronting on Route 91; and
• a 104.1-square foot variance on the maximum sign area permitted.
Council member Allen Mavrides — who also serves on the planning commission and was one of the three members who voted against Circle K’s plan in May — encouraged his colleagues to read the master plan for the town center.
While noting a gas station and convenience store is a "permitted use," Mavrides called the nine variances that have been approved "egregious … they’re over 50 [percent] to 60 percent of what’s permitted … it’s horrendous." Mavrides added there was "absolutely zero reason given [by Circle K] for hardship [to demonstrate the need for variances]."
Council member Jim Iona said he would prefer to see Circle K modify the plan to have it fit the lot.
Council member Gary Toth emphasized that the plan for the convenience store is an important component of the project.
"The more product they can push out of there, the better," said Toth.
Board of Zoning Appeals weighs in on variance
When the BZA approved Circle K’s variance request, member Kenneth Salman read a prepared motion which cited reasons for recommending approval.
Salman stated the motion to approve was "based upon a weighing of all of the testimony, documents, and other evidence presented to the BZA, both in support of and in opposition to the variance," and that the proposed variance complied "with the standard for granting a variance" laid out in the city’s zoning code. Salman stated the motion was also based on the weighing and consideration of nine factors listed in the zoning code.
Salman also noted two other "findings … weigh in favor of granting a variance":
• The variance is "substantially different" than the parking setback variance on Munroe Falls Avenue that was denied at the Oct. 23, 2018 meeting. The variance was "modified" so it has the same distance as the parking setback variance that was granted by the BZA for the front parking setback on Route 91.
• The variance is "supported by" other factors listed in the zoning code.
BZA chair Nicole Welsh, who favored the variance, said she felt the property "proposes a hardship on anybody who goes to build there because of the location and because of the traffic and because of the frontage."
"It’s a corner lot, it’s narrow to both frontages no matter what you build there," said Welsh. "It’s not against the residential district and it’s within the business area."
BZA member Larisa Mavrides, who cast the dissenting vote, said she felt Circle K had not demonstrated a hardship to obtain the variance. She noted she believed Circle K was trying "to squeeze a building" onto a 0.9-acre lot and noted she felt the company needed about 1.5 acres for the structure size they were planning.
Robert Weller, a civil engineer for the project, said Circle K wants to construct a 4,600 square foot building with 24-26 parking spaces and five fueling islands (two dispensers at each island). In the original plan, Weller said there was not a landscaping area between the property line and the sidewalk along Munroe Falls Avenue and noted the BZA had expressed concerns "about that limited distance." Weller said engineers decided to add some landscaping to establish more of a separation between the property line and the sidewalk.
"We angled the dispensers so they’re slanted to Munroe Falls Avenue," explained Weller. "We created a 5-foot green area between the property line and the Circle K curb."
Trevor Hardy, an attorney representing Circle K, said the planned landscaping "will benefit and beautify the city."
"I think that people traveling through the city are going to stop here, they’re going to use it, it will contribute to the city as far as tax revenues … Circle K does not want to do anything to take away the character of the neighborhoods [or] take away the character of the city."
Bill Kremer of Kremer Realty, who owns property next door to the space eyed by Circle K, said there is "more than ample room" for Circle K to build its project without requesting variances. He added Circle K officials knew the lot was "woefully undersized" for the building size they wanted to construct.
"It’s obvious the hardship has been self-created," said Kremer. He noted that the expected traffic volume is a concern.
Ed Muse, the attorney for the Kremer Family Revocable Trust, said he felt Circle K could construct a smaller building and install fewer pumps, and still "be able to come up with a reasonable return [on their investment]."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.