GREEN The chances for a reconsideration of a June 21 planning commission decision regarding a new retail development on Massillon Road were slim July 19, but the roughly 50 residents gathered expected more.
"You did this under the table and did not involve the community and now you have not involved the community again," Greenridge Drive resident Randy Saffles told planning commission members when the reconsideration was not moved forward. "Aren’t you going to have discussion?"
Planning Commission Chairman Dwight Yoder explained that since a motion was not formally presented - even though planning commission member Dave Plum, who was absent at the June 21 meeting, requested a motion to reconsider – there was nothing to discuss.
The motion to reconsider could have been presented by any member of planning commission Law Director Diane Calta explained, but only members who had voted in favor of the conditional use on June 21 – namely Craig Babbit, Bob Garritano, and Brent Kuwatch – could vote to reconsider the decision.
Yoder told residents that their next course of action could include an appeal to the city board of zoning appeals, an independent body that can consider all aspects of the case, which must be filed by Aug. 8. Saffles said he and his neighbors plan to file that appeal.
At issue is a commercial development on Massillon Road, to include a 22,000 square foot grocery store, as well as a restaurant with outdoor seating, which was granted conditional approval by planning commission at the June 21 meeting.
By comparison, Planning Director Wayne Wiethe said, the Giant Eagle at 1700 Corporate Woods Parkway is 80,000 square feet.
Residents on April Drive and other nearby streets argue that the development will eliminate a natural buffer between the neighborhood and commercial activity on Massillon Road, noting that residents have successfully opposed commercial development on the parcel for decades.
While residents whose properties are contiguous to the development were notified of the plans within the required 10 days of the June 21 planning commission meeting, many residents in the neighborhood at large feel timely notice was not given.
"On June 8, I got a notice (of the planning commission) meeting with (project developer) TWL Development," Doug Weaver said at the June 27 city council meeting. "The planning commission told us we should have been attending all the zoning meetings and checking the website. We asked them to table this for a month but we were denied and it was approved 3-2."
A community meeting organized by Wiethe and including representatives from TWL Development was also held July 12.
Mayor Gerard Neugebauer met with residents following the July 19 planning commission decision not to reconsider its June 21 decision. The mayor explained that the planning commission could only reconsider the prior vote based upon a narrow set of criteria, including whether or not the vote was made in a "hasty" manner and if new information had been presented.
"Nothing was going to happen here tonight either way," Neugebauer said, pointing out that even if the commission had reconsidered the approval, it would have merely scheduled another meeting for that reconsideration.
Neugebauer also noted that, unlike city council votes, which require three readings, planning commission decisions must be made within a shorter time frame since, in some cases, inaction results in automatic approval of a proposal.
However, the mayor said, the city is considering changes to how it notifies residents of pending items on future planning commission agendas, such as expanding notifications to more than contiguous properties and giving more than 10 days’ notice to residents.
"We can probably do more," Neugebauer said, though he added that the current system has been in place for as long as he can remember, with such resident concerns as this rarely occurring.
Likewise, Wiethe added, making the resident notice time too lengthy – such as Neugebauer’s originally proposed 30-day window - could create its own set of problems, including the fact that oftentimes plans are not even on the planning commission agenda that far in advance.
"Maybe we could be more explicit with things like, ‘the plans are on the (city) website; go to the website to see it.’ If we can make (the process) better, we will," he said.
One of the affected residents, Rocco Yeargin, is an attorney, though he will not be the legal representative for the residents in their BZA appeal. Yeargin said the primary issue is the fact that even though the developer plans to create a buffer to include a mound and fencing, the result is creating "a buffer on a natural buffer."
"We all like convenience when it comes to shopping, but what you have here is not a (proper) use," Yeargin said. "You lose the secluded feel of your backyard."