TWINSBURG – The planning commission may consider a final site plan in October for a 71-unit housing development on 11 acres on the west side of Darrow Road between Miktarian Parkway and the railroad tracks. The panel’s next meeting is Oct. 7.

Darrow Road Development LLC is seeking to build apartments for persons 55 and older on land bordering the Bel Mawr subdivision, and was granted 17 variances for the ranch-style complex at the board of zoning appeals’ Aug. 14 meeting. The land is in an R-7 senior residence zoning district.

At its Aug. 27 meeting, City Council waived the 30-day waiting period for building permits so the developer could begin the process of obtaining them. Final site plan approval from the planning commission is still needed.

City Planner Lynn Muter said she had expected the developer to seek final site plan approval at the planning panel’s Sept. 16 meeting, but no submission of final plans was received and the session was canceled because there were no other items up for discussion.

The developer originally proposed erecting a three-story building with 133 units. After talking with city officials and adjacent residents, it was decided that 15 ranch-style buildings with four to six units each would fit much better into the neighborhood.

The large building could have been erected with no variances needed, but the several smaller buildings required variances because of the adjacent railroad tracks and a gas line easement. The BZA granted a variance allowing the closest units to be within 30 feet of the tracks – whereas 200 feet is required in the zoning code – plus several rear yard variances.

"Seventeen variances are a lot, but I believe the ranch-style buildings are much more desirable than one large three-story building," said Councilman Greg Bellan at Council’s Aug. 27 meeting. "The planning panel, other city officials and many residents of Bel Mawr feel the same way."

"The smaller buildings had to be situated so they fit on the property," added Mayor Ted Yates. "There were so many variances because of the different setbacks for the various buildings. It’s not that egregious of a situation. Rarely do we get developers that work as well with the city as this one."

Councilman Bill Furey called it "a good compromise; the developer is leaving 62 units on the table that could have been constructed. Keeping the complex to one story with a minimal amount of intrusiveness seems like a good deal."

Director of Planning and Economic Development Larry Finch called it "a Herculean effort" by the developer to make the complex work and to look out for Bel Mawr residents.

"Our setback regulations are based on two-story structures, so it’s complicated to deal with a single-story plan," he said. "Our zoning code is outdated for this type of development. Fitting the buildings onto the property certainly was a hardship, but the variances are relatively minor."

When Council waived the 30-day requirement for seeking building permits, Councilman Brian Steele was the only person to vote "no."

While he agreed that a three-story building wouldn’t fit into the area, he was concerned about the 17 variances and that there is only one way into and out of the proposed complex – via Route 91.

"It seems they could fit the smaller buildings on the property without variances," Steele said. "It’s not good to play games with variances. Wand wih this large a complex, there should be two access points. It’s hard for me to support this plan."

When Steele was told by Law Director David Maistros that Council has the authority to rescind the BZA’s variances, he declined to pursue that avenue, noting he realized there would not be enough Council votes to support his motion.

The BZA also imposed conditions when it granted the variances, including that fencing up to 8 feet high be placed around parts of the complex; landscaping, drainage and lighting plans be submitted; patios be limited to 8 by 8 feet; no street access to Bel Mawr; trees more than 8 inches in diameter must be replaced; and lighting at the rear of the complex must be shielded from Bel Mawr neighbors.

A couple of residents expressed concerns about the proposal at Council’s Sept. 10 meeting. Loren Sengstock requested that the law director provide a legal opinion about granting of variances and how that fits into the zoning code, and asked why the proposed development is being "fast-tracked."

Bob Thewes said he believes handling variances in this manner "is not good government," and he believes the zoning code "needs attention."

Maistros said there have been no violations of the zoning code in this matter. "The BZA has the authority to grant variances," he said.

"We are not fast-tracking anything," added Furey. "Waiving the 30-day waiting period is nothing unusual; it’s something we’ve done several times in the past, and the compromise plan for the housing development looks like a win-win situation to me."

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