JACKSON TWP. Too many in Stark County, the Tam O’Shanter Golf Course has almost achieved landmark status. The beautiful rolling hills, well maintained greens and the many tree lines make a picturesque view for those driving by.
For the golfers in the county, many will say they grew up playing on the course better known as Tammy.
Most people of either group - golfers or observers - want the land to stay as is and never change. That also goes for Tam O'Shanter owner and operator Chuck Bennell. But he would also like to retire in the next two to three years and he hasn’t been able to sell the land.
Jackson Township’s Fiscal Officer Randy Gonzalez would also like to see the golf course stay, but knows that isn't going to happen.
"I grew up golfing on Tammy and I still golf there once a week. I’m going to miss the course when it shuts down," Gonzalez said. "We all have to accept that the course is going to close. The question is what is going to become of the land?"
The Jackson Township Trustees approved a rezoning request from the owners of Tam O’Shanter Golf Course on June 27 which allows for 62 acres south of the southeast corner of Everhard and Fulton roads to be zoned commerical. The rest of the land would be dedicated to park space.
Selling Tam O’Shanter
Bennell said in a public meeting on June 13 that he would love to sell the land to someone who would keep it active as a golf course. Unfortunately, he said he’s not received any offers along those lines.
Instead, he could sell the land, as it was previously zoned residential, to a housing developer who could build up to 400 houses on the land. That option would increase the need for more roads, more road maintenance, put more demand on the Jackson Local School District, increase traffic and decrease the green space, supporters of the rezoning say.
Bennell, however, came up with a way to sell the land that would keep 80 percent of the land as green space and allow him to retire and leave a legacy behind. He asked the township to rezone 62 acres commercial so that he could sell that section to a commercial developer. He would then he sell 205 acres to Stark Parks at a reduced rate and donate 20 acres to the township for a park.
What’s Best for the Township and Residents
Trustee James Walters believes this is a "once in a lifetime opportunity" for the township.
"This is an opportunity to secure 225 acres of greenspace for our children and our grandchildren," Walters wrote in an email interview. "One of the most common issues raised with zoning requests is greenspace. This request preserves 80 percent of that land as greenspace. With the greenspace, road improvements and the addition of the buffer area, I strongly believe this is the best plan for the township."
Township trustees approved the zoning with one condition that a couple of acres be zoned for small office space. That condition came due to opposition against the rezoning by residents at Carriage Hill Apartments and homeowners on Everhard Road directly across from the Carriage Hill Apartments.
Gonzalez said Bennell agreed to that request and went one step further.
"In addition to the tree line along the property that surrounds the Carriage Hill Apartments, Bennell has agreed to a 20-foot buffer that wouldn’t allow any building in that buffer area," Gonzalez said.
Walters and Gonzales both agree that zoning the 62 acres for commercial benefits the township in three ways.
First, is the greenspace. Second, are the improvements that can be made to the busy intersection of Fulton and Everhard roads.
Gonzalez said trustees have met with the Ohio Department of Transportation and Stark County about making improvements to that intersection.
"We’ve had multiple meetings and have been told every time that no improvements would be made unless the township came up with the $1.3 million needed to make the improvements." Gonzalez said.
The third benefit is having 20 acres donated to the township for a park. Gonzalez said the park would be used for soccer and lacrosse fields. He also said the demand for use of Jackson’s parks has a trickle down effect for everyone.
An additional benefit would be the taxes collected from the commercial businesses locating to the property through a Joint Economic Development District (JEDD) agreement with Tam O’Shanter. The 62 acres would be part of a JEDD and income taxes would be collected from persons working in that area only.
Gonzalez said that 1 percent of the collected income tax would go to the township and would be used for the police and fire departments.
Greenspace: Stark Parks has a plan in place to purchase the 205 acres as soon as Bennell is ready to sell. Stark Parks Director Robert Fonte told residents at the June 13 public hearing that Stark Parks will make the acreage a passive park with little to no development on the land.
New Jackson park: Then, there’s the 20 acres donated for a Jackson Township park. Parks Supervisor Dave Ruwadi said there is always a demand for ballfields in Jackson Township and it has continued to grow over the past several years.
"The Gary Bowen and the national tournament use the township’s baseball fields in the spring, and this spring there were over 500 hotel rooms booked for each of the events," Ruwadi said. "The national tournaments are four and five-day events so families are eating in the local restaurants, visiting the Hall of Fame and shopping. With new soccer and lacrosse fields on the 20 acres, we could start hosting traveling leagues and tournaments," he said.
The township is also working to get North Park ready for building the new amphitheater. The Jackson Branch Library has been moved and the old building has been demolished. Soon, the basketball and tennis courts will move into the space used for soccer fields to make room for new parking lots.
While the township has 24 baseball/softball fields, losing the soccer fields at North Park may limit who Ruwadi can schedule to use the fields.
"We have four main groups using those fields now, the Fury Soccer girls competitive, Canton Akron boys competitive, the Jackson Soccer League noncompetitive and the YMCA Pee Wee Soccer," Ruwadi said.
He said they always have to give the bigger groups priority when it comes to scheduling and the smaller groups take what’s available.
"The rework of North Park will require more land for soccer and lacrosse fields. Plus, with the new park, the township can start hosting invitational soccer and lacrosse tournaments with the 20-acre park," Ruwadi said.
Improved Roadways: Gonzalez said the township will be able to work with ODOT to get right turn lanes put in on all sides of the Fulton and Everhard intersection. A right turn lane will also be added at Fulton and Frank roads.
Trustees are working with residents in the area to provide a solution to prevent Sibila Street from being used as a cut through.
Will the Residents Decide?
A group of residents living around the Fulton/Everhard intersection are trying to get enough signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot so that Jackson Township residents can decide the future of the Tam O’Shanter land.
Gonzalez said the residents have until July 29 to present the needed signatures to the township office and then forwarded to the Stark County Board of Elections for verification by the Aug. 9 deadline.
In two recent letters to the editor to The Canton Repository, one resident wrote he believes that it’s all about the money and that Tam O’Shanter could find someone to sell it to as a golf course but for lower money. The other resident believes that zoning is meant to protect the citizenry and the development of the 62 acres will increase traffic, noise and crime in the area.
Gonzalez said Tam O’Shanter will be closed and sold. He said residents have two clear choices to select from, either leave the residential zoning in place and have 400 new homes in the area with new roads and a strain on the school district. Or, have 20 percent of the land with commercial development and 80 percent as greenspace.