Cuyahoga Falls City Council approves car wash project on Portage Trail

Many residents voice objections to plan; legislators back project by 7-4 vote

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
On overhead schematic of the proposed car wash.
Artist's renderings of what the proposed car wash would look like.

CUYAHOGA FALLS — Despite objections raised by neighboring residents and some nearby businesses, city council on Monday approved a conditional zoning certificate for a new car wash on Portage Trail Extension West just west of State Road.

More:See a map of the area here.

Council voted 7-4 to grant the certificate that will allow Conrad's Tire Express and Total Car Care to build a car wash facility on Portage Trail Extension West, west of State Road. The 5,200 square foot facility would be a single-lane automatic, tunnel style car wash with a side canopy cover over three pay stations.

The legislation was approved by Council member Russ Balthis (D-At Large), Tim Gorbach (D-At Large), Jerry James (D-7), Rachel Loza (D-1), Mary Nichols-Rhodes (D-4), Meika Marie Penta (D-3), and Susan Spinner (D-2). The measure was opposed by Council President Mike Brillhart (D-5), as well as Council members Jeff Iula (R-At Large), Adam Miller (R-6) and Frank Stams (D-8).

Balthis (D-At Large), the city's former law director, said he believed the city would've opened itself up to litigation if the project had been rejected.

"If City Council voted no, the property owner could sue the city for taking their property rights, which would lead to a legal battle, costing the city thousands of dollars," stated Balthis after the vote. "…I believe the city would lose that lawsuit and I would rather see those dollars spent on our roads, safety forces, and parks."

A Conrad's official said they were happy with the approval.

"We're very pleased to have an opportunity to expand our Northeast Ohio-founded and based business into another great community and to be able to serve those residents," stated Dominic Umek, group business leader at Conrad's.

The start of construction is eyed for late winter or early spring of 2021, with the business slated to open in late summer or early fall of 2021, according to Umek.

Concerns were raised by residents about noise, lighting, the impact on air quality, a potential decline in property values and two other car wash facilitie operating less than a mile from the Conrad's site. 

James said, "it was a really hard decision to make."

He said he felt Conrad's "did everything they could possibly do to be good neighbors," and that the company was going "over and above" the project's requirements. The business will operate from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. The business agreed to those hours as one of the conditions of the approval.

"They could've [stayed open] until 11 p.m.," said James. "They decided they weren't going to do that to the neighbors."

James said Conrad's will plant more trees than the amount required and trees already in the area will remain standing to provide "more of a sound buffer."

Stams noted officials heard from a lot of residents who had concerns.

"I think they would know first-hand …what would be harmonious and appropriate for the neighborhood," said Stams. "It doesn't fit for them and … You're hearing from business leaders in the neighborhood … that it doesn't benefit them."

The city's general development code has a criteria for evaluating a conditional zoning certificate and one criterion states in part: "The use is not hazardous or disturbing to existing or planned future neighboring uses…"

Stams said he felt that criterion was not met. He noted he felt Conrad's opening at 7 a.m. was "going to be disturbing," and added he was concerned about the noise that would be generated by the car wash.

Several residents who live on Cedar Woods Drive located behind the planned car wash voiced their objections during the planning and zoning committee meeting Sept. 21.

Resident Diane Hurley said there's "a huge opposition [among residents] for this car wash."

She talked about seeing a car wash with a similar design of a long glass tunnel.

"This structure was so lit up at 11:30 at night I can't imagine that being on the back of our properties," said Hurley. "…It's not hidden or tucked away. It's very intrusive as far as lighting."

Resident Rob Crano said his property abuts the land planned for the facility.

 "I'm the one who's going to have to deal with young children …playing in the pool in my backyard who have to then smell fumes, who then have to deal with sound, light [and] other issues," said Crano.

He noted the new car wash would take business away from nearby car washes. aand added more than 500 people signed a petition opposing the project.

"It's [council's] responsibility to listen to what we want, your constituents," said Crano. "I'm begging you … vote no."

Cedar Woods Drive resident Nesrene Clossman said she believed a business like a fast food place would be built next to the car wash and cause, "another decrease in my property values."

She noted she was concerned about air quality in connection with vehicles idling on the property.

Clossman said the car wash "is not the type of business that we want on this property."

More objections were expressed in seven emails sent to council in the days leading up to the vote.

Jim and Julie Thomasson, owners of Falls Laserwash —  less than half a mile from the Conrad's site — emailed council to object.

"My biggest fear when opening our wash, just one year ago, was … that a much larger, non-local car wash would build on top of us and potentially put us out of business," wrote Julie Thomasson.

A third car wash — Quality Scrub — is about one-third of a mile from Conrad's site.

Umek said Conrad's agreed to every city-requested condition and "exceeded several of them."

Conrad's must put in landscaping on the property line next to Cedar Woods residents that met the heavy intensity level in the development code and install an 8-foot fence with buffering materials to reduce sound and light.

 "We believe once the property is fully developed and operational the concerns expressed by the residents will have been completely addressed," said Umek.

Umek said a noise study was performed at another facility using the same equipment that will be utilized in Falls.

"The decibels … being emitted from the portion of the car wash that faces the residents here off of Portage [Trail] is an average of 61.8," Umek said. He noted "ambient noise" in an outdoor setting is typically about 50 decibels.

Other thoughts from city legislators, administrators

Community Development Director Diana Colavecchio said Conrad's would bring in four full-time and six part-time jobs. The $4.4 million project would convert tax-exempt land into land that generates property taxes, including about $13,000 annually for the Woodridge Local Schools.

To the west of Conrad's site is a parcel that has an oil and gas well on it. Colavecchio said the well is operational, but noted the pipeline "runs straight south to Portage Trail and does not cut through the land mass where the car wash will be constructed."

Brillhart said he received many calls from residents who opposed the project.

"I work for the residents and the residents don't want this," said Brillhart.

Gorbach said a common argument opposing project was the fact that there are many car washes in the city. 

"It is not lawful for council to arbitrarily decide if we have too many businesses in a particular industry or if it will be successful," he said.

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