Cuyahoga Falls moving forward on Merriman Valley master plan
City Council will vote on hiring company on Monday
CUYAHOGA FALLS — City leaders are teaming up with their counterparts in Akron to chart a course for the future of the Merriman Valley.
Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters painted a picture at a recent council meeting.
"When we think of the Merriman Valley, we think of Papa Joe's, Szalay's Farm Market, the [Cuyahoga Valley] Scenic Railroad, Liberty Commons, the Towpath trail, the Cuyahoga River and most importantly, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park," Walters said.
Walters noted the Cuyahoga Valley National Park — which attracts 2.2 million visitors each year — and the surrounding area will be a focal point of a master plan for the Merriman Valley that will be developed by Farr Associates.
"We know that visitors and residents alike want things to do in the immediate area," said Walters. "The park is like a magnet and it's obvious that people want to live, work and play nearby, but what should the live, work and play elements look like? Those are the questions we will be seeking answers for."
Council will vote Monday on entering an agreement with Farr Associates to prepare a study and master plan for the Merriman Valley and Schumacher Planning Areas. The amount being spent on the contract is capped at $200,000.
Cuyahoga Falls and Akron will split the cost, but Cuyahoga Falls is serving as the fiscal agent for the process.
Community Development Director Diana Colavecchio said this means Falls will pay the entire amount of the contract and then seek a $100,000 reimbursement from the city of Akron. Both cities are using Community Development Block Grant money to pay Farr Associates.
Jason Segedy, director of planning and urban development for the city of Akron, said he looks forward to the joint initiative with Cuyahoga Falls.
"I'm very excited about the zoning part of this," Segedy said. "I think we …in Akron have some zoning that's outdated and doesn't necessarily reflect the realities of the Valley today."
Colavecchio said the joint venture between the cities will promote sustainable development, ecotourism and build on the recreational opportunities that are already available.
"There are many amenities in the Valley and looking forward, we want to provide a proper road map for future development," Colavecchio said.
She noted the master plan being developed is the result of discussions that occurred with area residents who objected to residential developments approved in the Valley area in 2018 and 2019.
Last year and earlier this year, the same group of residents objected to a plan to build 197 townhomes on the former Riverwoods Golf Course. Akron City Council in February approved rezoning the golf course to allow the homes to be constructed. As they objected to the plan, the residents formed a group called PreservetheValley.com.
Several Valley residents voiced support for the start of the master planning process.
Andrew Holland, a Cuyahoga Falls resident and member of PreservetheValley.com, said he and his neighbors are "encouraged" by the selection of Farr Associates for the master plan creation.
Holland said he hopes the process helps "our communities realize the potential of the entire Cuyahoga Valley."
Cuyahoga Falls resident Brett Safran said he got involved with the Preserve the Valley effort because it was frustrating to watch developments being built in the Valley.
"We hope that through collaboration we can answer the questions: What does it look like to be a good neighbor to a national park and how can we build a more sustainable city, create a sense of place centered on outdoor recreation and then leverage that reputation to attract new residents and tourists?" Safran said.
Farr Associates intends to start the master plan process in April and finish it in early 2022.
Doug Farr, president of Farr Associates said, the goal is to put together a plan that "steers a fast-growing area in the right direction."
Hybrid workshop meetings known as charrettes will happen to solicit community input.
Falls City Council member Russ Balthis (at-large) encouraged members of the public to get involved.
"It's only going to be as successful as we are all willing to be honest, [and] share our thoughts, listen to other thoughts and be engaged," Balthis said.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.