SALEM - Two rezoning ordinances related to the Salem Pointe apartment development on the city's east side received their second readings Tuesday night, with one more reading required for city council to vote on the rezoning requests.
Councilman Rick Drummond only had each ordinance read for second readings since Councilman K. Bret Apple was absent from the meeting. Council members take a vote only during the third reading or when an ordinance is being considered for all three readings at once.
No discussion took place during council's regular meeting regarding the rezoning ordinances, since residents and council members had already discussed both issues during a public hearing held prior to the council meeting.
The NRP Group of Cleveland initially requested the rezoning of 6.9 acres of land just south of the East Pershing Street extension to Butcher Road, from C-2 General Commercial to RA Multiple Family Residential as part of its plans for a three-phase housing development of apartments and single family homes. The developer has an option to purchase a 67.7 acre tract which borders East Pershing Street, Butcher Road and Cunningham Road and abuts the deadends of Oak Street, Tanglewood, Kennedy and Edgewood drives.
NRP Group Developer Mary Hada explained during a meeting of the city Planning Commission that the company had no plan to develop the section of property near the deadends due to wetlands and the topography of the land.
To appease concerned residents on those deadend streets who were concerned about apartments being built near their single-family homes, the Planning Commission recommended the rezoning of 14.3 acres of the 67.7-acre parcel from RA Multiple Family Residential to RS-2 Single Family Residential to form a buffer zone. Hada said the company had no problem with that. She also later announced plans to seek a conservation easement on 32 acres on the western half of the parcel where the wetlands and creek are located to ensure no development can take place there, ever.
The two rezoning requests, for 6.9 acres from commercial to multiple family and for 14.3 acres from multiple family to single family, are the only questions before council regarding the apartment development.
That fact was stressed during the public hearing, with Councilwoman Cyndy Baronzzi Dickey, who lives at the corner of Edgewood and Southeast Boulevard, noting that one is contingent on the other. She said NRP agreed to the buffer zone request if the request for the 6.9 acres was approved, although during the hearing, Hada said they don't have a problem with the buffer zone and would move the project down to the area already zoned multiple family if the zoning request from commercial to multiple family for the top strip near Pershing isn't approved.
It was Dickey's understanding that the way the ordinances were approved by the Planning Commission, one depends on the other and both depend on whether construction begins within two years of rezoning approval. If the project doesn't begin in the allotted time, the zoning will revert to what it is now, with the top strip commercial and the rest multiple family.
"We're not being asked if we approve the project," Dickey said.
Councilman Brian Whitehill, who lives on Tanglewood, at the deadend, also talked about how the process regarding the rezoning had evolved to what he considered a better scenario, to get single family zoning instead of having multiple family butting against the deadend streets and to protect their streets further with a conservation easement.
He also said he talked to many residents in the affected neighborhood and most would rather look at apartments rather than commercial development. He said if the strip of 6.9 acres remained commercial and the apartment development just moved down a little, then developers would have even more reason to develop that commercial area.
Kennedy Drive resident Russ Sutherin questioned some of the information being released about the project, the short amount of time residents had to prepare when the first meeting was held and whether a vote would take place on the project.
It was reiterated that the only vote before council would be the rezoning requests. Dickey explained how anyone can put anything on a piece of land if it matches the zoning. She said the city needs to decide the direction it wants to go and to discuss zoning and what kind of development will be allowed throughout the city. She said that way they'll be fighting for what they want for Salem, not against what other people want to do.
When questions arose about changes to the number of units and the decision not to have any apartments at market rate, Hada explained that the plans she discussed at the first meeting changed after the company received the final market report for the area and learned the market would not support their normal market rent or a 120-unit complex, so they changed phase I to a 90-unit complex of all low-to-moderate income units based on the housing credits they're seeking from the state of Ohio to build the project. Only a small portion had been planned to be at market rate
She said other things changed, such as them adding the conservation easement, and adding other amenities to the complex, such as a car wash area, increasing the size of the units and giving two parking spots per unit.
She said the report they received showed that over 1,000 people in this area would qualify to live in the apartment complex, stressing that they're not pulling from Youngstown and East Liverpool. No new apartments have been built in the city since 2006, she said. One project with a top grade is the senior housing complex NRP built on West Perry Street.
Councilman Dave Nestic said that he found personally offensive all the talk about low-income people coming there.
"People at all income levels have the right to quality housing," he said.
Hada said they'll find out on June 12 whether the project will receive the tax credits from the state to finance the project. Out of over 100 applications, only 30 percent will receive funding. If NRP gets the tax credits for Salem Pointe, the tax credits will be sold to investors to raise the money for construction and the company will work on all the financing packages, which she said takes about nine months to complete.
Ideally, she said they want to break ground in April 2014 and take 12 months to build, with a completion date of April 2015. She said they still have plans for two more phases.
A summary about Salem Pointe can be found under proposal summaries for low income housing tax credits on the Ohio Housing Finance Agency website at www.ohiohome.org. or by doing a search for Salem Pointe on the website.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org