SILVER LAKE — The planning commission has recommended that Council not rezone a 4.3 acre property owned by the Cuyahoga Falls City Schools.

Council is examining the possibility of rezoning the Silver Lake Elementary School land, 2970 Overlook Road, from its current Institutional District classification to a Residential District category.

Council recently had a second reading on the proposal and will now meet with Planning Commission members in a special committee of the whole meeting to discuss the issue on June 19 at 7 p.m. in village hall, 2961 Kent Road. 

Council President Gerald Jones (At Large) said the meeting will allow the two groups "to get together and talk about our options and our concerns."

"I don’t think there’s a rush on this," said Village Council member Therese Dunphy (District B). "... Nothing is imminent, so I would much rather take our time and do this well."

A public hearing on the proposed rezoning is scheduled for July 15. Council voted to delay the third reading of the legislation until its meeting on Aug. 5.

Jones, who lives across the street from the school, proposed the initial legislation to rezone the parcel.

"I’ve been reading [about] what’s going on with [the school district’s] finances and they have some severe issues," said Jones.

Jones said he requested the rezoning legislation "so that the village can pretty much determine what goes in there if [the school district] would close the school and decide to try to sell it off or tear it down."

If the land is rezoned to a residential designation, village solicitor Robert Heydorn said the school could continue to operate and the district would also be allowed to tear down the building and reconstruct it on the same site. Both options would be allowed as a "legal non-conforming use," said Heydorn.

Cuyahoga Falls City Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols said there have been "no decisions" regarding K-5 building plans. Nichols explained that plans for the elementary school buildings would be part of the district’s Master Facilities Planning Committee’s second segment of review.

The district is currently planning to ask voters to approve about $56 million in funding for the first phase of the Master Facilities Plan, under which Newberry Elementary and Bolich Middle schools would be demolished and a new building for sixth through 12th grade plus the Career Tech program would be built.

"As we begin Segment Two, the administration and Board of Education would welcome any conversation with the council and/or commission," said Nichols.

Planning Commission members explain opposition

The proposed rezoning legislation was referred to the planning commission for its review several months ago. The commission’s chairman, Jeff Heintz, sent a two-page memo to council in April explaining why the commission opposed rezoning the parcel.

Another commission member, Dennis Stoiber, visited with Council last month to discuss his group’s thought process. Stoiber said commissioners believe a public elementary school building on the property "has been and will continue to be the best use of that land." 

If a school building is not on the land in the future, Stoiber said the commission thinks the best use would be "a combination of residential and park and recreation." Heintz, in his memo, outlined four ways that the land could be rezoned to accommodate this concept. 

Some other acceptable uses under the current Institutional District zoning category include an office building, a maintenance facility and an adult education site with evening classes offered, according to Stoiber.

"All of those things seem to us to be not in keeping with the residential [concept]," said Stoiber.

In the memo, Heintz said regardless of whether the site is rezoned, the commission "believes council should limit the alternative uses currently permissible" under the current zoning classification.

Stoiber said the commission did not contact the school board about this proposal. He noted if the village approved the rezoning now, it might "raise [school officials’] hackles" because they may view the move as "pre-emptively ... trying to limit their abilities to use that property as they wished."

Heintz wrote in his memo that rezoning to a residential category could have the opposite of Council’s intended effect: "If a residential zoning classification for the property is viewed as making it valuable for development, the school district could be incentivized to close the school and monetize its asset."

Stoiber told Council that the commission believes "the best outcome for both the village and the school board would take place if there is a cooperative discussion between the board and the village as to what is best for all the constituents of both groups."

He said before village officials meet with school board members, he felt they should determine acceptable and unacceptable uses of the property.

"So that going into that first meeting [with school officials], there is a very clear sense of what, in our best scenario, would be the thing [to do], what would be acceptable and maybe, most importantly, what would not be acceptable," said Stoiber.

History of the site

In his memo, Heintz said Silver Lake once had an independent school district "which consisted solely of" the building on Overlook Road. Heintz said Silver Lake in the 1960s merged its district into the Cuyahoga Falls City School District and "conveyed the 4-plus acre [elementary] school site" to the Falls school district.

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