Jackson Township's zoning commission approved a plan that could see 200-plus acres of Tam O'Shanter golf course become a park. Trustees now have the final say.

JACKSON TWP.  The idea of a 200-acre county park helped persuade the township zoning commission to approve a proposed zoning change for part of Tam O'Shanter golf course.

About 62 acres on the southeast corner of Fulton Drive and Everhard Road NW was approved for business zoning that allows office buildings, as well as gas stations, large retail and hotels. Stark County's Regional Planning Commission had recommended different business zoning that allowed for office buildings and smaller retail development.

"It's an extraordinary opportunity for park space," said James Conley, zoning commission chairman, as the three-hour discuss wrapped up.

"I don't think it's perfect. I wish it was a little different," Conley said of the proposal. "Given the benefits, I'm in favor."

The proposed zoning change now will be considered by Jackson Township trustees. A public hearing has been set for the trustees' meeting June 13, where they also will consider a proposal to change zoning for a 1.33 acre tract owned by Rivertree Christian Church on Portage Street NW.

Owners of Tam O'Shanter have been considering closing the golf course and selling the property for several years. They devised a plan to sell 205 acres to Stark Parks and give 20 acres to Jackson Township for sports fields. But the plan hinged on having property along Fulton Drive rezoned for business.

Charles Bennell, president and a co-owner of the property, said the 200-plus acres could be sold to the county at a discounted price if the zoning change was granted. Developers wouldn't be interested in property that allowed for only offices and small retail, Bennell said.

If the owners couldn't sell the property with the business zoning they sought, Bennell said they could sell it to a company willing to building houses on the 300-acre plot. Selling to a major real estate company would be the easy move, but the owners didn't want to see the land turned into a housing subdivision, Bennell said.

"There is no active market to sell the land as a golf course," Bennell told the zoning commission, adding that the property would be sold eventually.

Neighbors living north of the golf course spoke against Bennell's proposal. The biggest concern was increased traffic, including more large trucks, that would come with commercial development. Residents in a neighborhood on the southwest corner complained that drivers already cut through their neighborhood to avoid the Fulton and Everhard intersection. They expect things will get worse if the area sees more development.

Residents of the Carriage Hill apartments also expressed concerns about noise and light pollution created by large business buildings.

The residents opposing the project said they favored a change that would see offices or small retail. They also preferred that land at the corner of Everhard and Fulton not be developed, but used for the proposed park. But commissioners recognized the corner was key to development.

"Is the corner the most valuable piece of the property?" David Theil, a zoning commission member, asked Bennell.

"Absolutely! Absolutely!" Bennell shot back.

Zoning commission members said they understood the residents' concerns, but noted that the traffic problems already exist. The possibility of adding park land helped sway the panel. Several mentioned that Jackson's park system as a crown jewel.

"I'm a believer in parks," Larry Everhard, a zoning commission member, said explaining why he favored the change.

The commission needed only about 20 minutes on the Rivertree zoning change, which would go to business from rural residential. The church and the Christian Children's Home of Ohio have been using a house on the lot as a meeting center and for offices. Plans are to build a larger facility.

Reach Edd at 330-580-8484 or edd.pritchard@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @epritchardREP