TWINSBURG – The planning commission has approved a final site plan for a 71-unit cluster housing development on Darrow Road between Miktarian Parkway and the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway tracks.

The panel approved the Wilcox Meadows final site Nov. 4, and a public hearing for residents to provide input will take place Dec. 10 at 6:30 p.m. prior to Council considering the site plan at its regular meeting that night.

At Council’s Nov. 12 session, Councilman Scott Barr, who represents Council on the planning commission, said the panel OK’d the site plan 4-1 after no residents spoke for or against it. He added homeowners association officials for the adjacent Bel Mawr subdivision favored an agreement dealing with landscaping and buffering between the two housing areas.

Darrow Road Development LLC plans to build ranch-style apartments for persons 55 and older on 11 acres bordering the Bel Mawr subdivision. The land is in an R-7 senior residence zoning district. The board of zoning appeals granted 17 variances for the project on Aug. 14.

City planner Lynn Muter said changes to the preliminary site plan included a shift of the stormwater basin to increase its distance from the nearest building, and relocation of the cluster mailboxes. "The building and driveway locations remain the same as presented in preliminary drawings," she said.

The buffer/landscaping plan includes 197 trees, 124 of which will be spruce varieties, along the Bel Mawr property lines.

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 landscape.

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 felt 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."

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.

Law Director David Maistros said there were no violations of the zoning code in this matter. "The BZA has the authority to grant variances," he said.

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