Mentor council sends Center Square rezoning to voters

News-Herald (Willoughby, OH), 2014-08-07

Aug. 07 --It's now up to Mentor voters whether to transform a high-profile area in the heart of the community.

City Council on Aug. 5 voted 6-0 in favor of a proposal to rezone 3.17 acres of single-family and general business land northwest of Routes 20 and 615 to Old Village District . Council's action sends the issue to the Nov. 4 ballot.

The zoning change -- requested by B.R. Knez Construction and Jackson Hopkins LLC -- would come with specific plans for the property. Center Street Square would include eight, four-story duplex structures with four commercial units and 24 residential units. This is a departure from a previous plan, which involved higher density.

The front buildings would have single-family units and are expected to cost about $350,000 , while the rear units would be in excess of $200,000 , developer Bo Knez said.

Ward 3 Councilman Bruce Landeg abstained on the vote, because of a business relationship with the developer outside the city.

Several residents addressed council on the project prior to the vote, most expressing concerns.

Rob Kneen of Best Western Lawnfield Inn & Suites spoke in support.

"I think that this project represents a great deal of good things that can happen for this intersection ... to help finish it off to look like a village as opposed to just another intersection," he said.

Concerns came from a few Case Avenue neighbors and Lake National Bank President Andrew Meinhold , whose building is next to the proposed development.

Meinhold said the rezoning isn't an issue, and he affirmed Knez as a developer, noting that the bank financed his downtown Willoughby project. However, he said parking at the bank already is tight at times. Additional traffic around the bank property also was raised as a potential problem.

Access to the site would be provided by an existing shared access drive south of the Lake National Bank building that connects Center Street to Presley Avenue Extension . The site also can be accessed from Prospect Street , which connects with the extension north of the bank building.

Mentor Economic Development Director Ronald M. Traub said signs directing tenants and business patrons to use Presley Avenue to the development are likely to remedy some of the traffic concerns.

He said the bank's parking issues may be alleviated somewhat now that two businesses north of a Realtor's office north of the bank building have been demolished.

"My understanding is that (Realtor office patrons) have been drifting onto that (bank) property," he said.

Neighbors said they didn't oppose the rezoning, but sought reassurance that the development would go forward as proposed. They mentioned other plans for the property that changed or never materialized.

Traub spoke to the "shifting plans" concerns.

"Any changes to the subdivision plat would require going back before the Planning Commission and City Council ," he said. "And if it is made a part of this Old Village zoning, it would require a rezoning to change it.

"While the Old Village zoning offers some flexibility, while you're in the process, you're locked into it."

Council members had questions as well. Ward 1 Councilman Robert M. Shiner , too, sought a guarantee that "this is how it's going to be built."

"I can guarantee it," Knez said.

Resident Judy Willour questioned why signs for a defunct condo proposal near the site remain standing after six years. Knez said the signs owners -- with whom he isn't involved -- haven't responded to repeated requests to remove the signs.

Questions also arose about the status of plans for 13 single-family homes slated for Presley Avenue . Property owner Rick Osborne Jr . said those plans are progressing.

Councilwoman at large Janet Dowling asked what type of tenants are sought for the commercial spaces.

"I assume not high traffic," she said.

Knez said restrictions will be placed on those buildings.

"No noise, no smell, certain hours," he said. "We're looking for professional office (users), small boutiques; we're not looking for restaurants and bars."

The project has the potential to jump-start redevelopment of the Old Village Area, create a downtown for the community and attract the coveted Millennial generation, Traub has said.


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