Cuyahoga Falls moving forward on Merriman Valley master plan

City Council will vote on hiring company on Monday

Phil Keren
Akron Beacon Journal
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 in November 2020.  Members of this group are in favor of a proposal offered by Western Reserve Land Conservancy to preserve 45 acres of land at Theiss and Hardy roads.  [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

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 Monday night's 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," said Walters.

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 this 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 entities 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," said Segedy. "I think we …in Akron have some zoning that's outdated and doesn't necessarily reflect the realities of the Valley today."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," said Colavecchio.

She noted the master plan being developed is the result of discussions that occurred with area residents who objected to residential developments that 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 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."

Saying it was "frustrating" to watch developments being built in the Valley was why resident Brett Safron said he got involved with the Preserve the Valley effort. He added he was looking forward to working with Farr Associates. 

"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?" said Safron.

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.

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," said Balthis.

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