Akron, Cuyahoga Falls forming master plan for Merriman Valley

Staff report
Nate Holland of PreserveTheValley.com hands out a flyer during a protest of The Riverwoods Development and The Theiss Development in the valley in Akron on  Nov. 14, 2020. Akron and Cuyahoga Falls are teaming up for a new joint planning process for future development in the Merriman Valley and Schumacher areas.

Akron and Cuyahoga Falls have officially launched a joint planning process to steer future development in the Merriman Valley and Schumacher areas. 

The master plan will begin with a study that includes analysis of the Merriman Road, Portage Path/Akron-Peninsula and Portage Trail/Northampton corridors, the cities announced Friday afternoon in a joint news release.

Once created, the plan will focus on land use and development, including zoning, urban design, transportation, environmental concerns and economic development components, while acknowledging the recreational and hospitality opportunities in the Merriman Valley.

Akron Director of Planning and Urban Development Jason Segedy previewed the collaboration while speaking to the Beacon Journal in November as the city debated whether to allow 197 new townhomes at the Riverwoods Golf Course. That development, like others across the street or the Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga Falls, was approved.

In December, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan earmarked funds in the 2021 capital budget for a master development plan for the neighborhood straddling the two cities.

The plan is to hire Farr Associates, an architecture and planning firm headquartered in Chicago, to assist in developing the master plan. Each city has committed up to $100,000 to the planning costs. Opportunities for residents, businesses and other stakeholders to engage, both online and in-person, will be made available. It is expected the process will begin this spring and conclude in early 2022.

In recent months, residents in both communities have fought against development proposals in the Valley.

The mayors say the proposed planning is exciting for both communities and "long overdue."

Much of the area was part of the old Northampton Township, portions of which were annexed by Akron and the remainder of which merged with Cuyahoga Falls in 1986.  

Community leaders say residential, retail and industrial development has occurred over the past several decades without an integrated plan for land use and development.

“This is a plan that is long overdue — we all see the potential that exists in the Valley, our backyard, so close to the National Park,” Mayor Don Walters said in the news release. “Our two planning departments have been working on this together for many months now, and they have enjoyed the teamwork. Now it’s time to bring in the experts and let the residents have their voices heard.”

"This is such an exciting time for our two communities as we look together toward the future of the Valley," Horrigan said. "The end result of this process will be a Master Plan which recognizes the unique opportunities for residential and retail development in an area that is blessed with natural beauty, contains wonderful recreational amenities and is at the foot of our National Park.”

Discussion on the proposal to hire Farr and Associates will take place 6:30 p.m. March 15 via Zoom. If approved by Cuyahoga Falls City Council, the city will serve as the fiscal agent on this project.