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Highland Square united in Ward 1

11/8/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Also, West Hill multi-family zoning requests denied

DOWNTOWN AKRON — With a few minor tweaks, the redistricting plan that caused much debate among Akron City Council members the prior week passed with a vote of 11-2 Nov. 5.

The main sticking point had been the adjustment of the boundary between Wards 1 and 2, which meant sitting Councilmen James Hurley, who currently represents Ward 1, and Bruce Kilby, who represents Ward 2, both would reside in Ward 2. Some Council members voiced their reservations about the two Council members being placed in the same ward and said the move was intended to force Kilby — an often critical member — off Council.

On Nov. 5, Council President Marco Sommerville (D-Ward 3) reiterated that the main goal of the redistricting proposal was to better align the ward boundaries with the boundaries of the city’s neighborhoods.

“The bottom line is that our only mission and only purpose is to bring the city together,” Sommerville said. “There’s no other way to do it.”

Sommerville added, “Mr. Kilby, I want to say to you that this is not directed at you. It’s directed at making sure that Highland Square is put together as much as possible.”

The redistricting places the Highland Square neighborhood — previously divided among Wards 1, 3, 4 and 8 — all in Ward 1.

Kilby and Councilman Michael Williams (D-at large) voted against the plan. Williams said he objects to two sitting Council members being placed in the same ward. He further stated the boundary adjustments every 10 years are difficult on the citizens.

“This is a very emotional issue in particular for our residents,” he said. “These things impact people.”

The new ward boundaries will become effective for the next municipal election, which will be a primary election in September.

In other business, Council unanimously voted to deny two requests to retain two-unit dwellings in the West Hill neighborhood. The requests had come up for public hearings in September, with numerous residents speaking in opposition and in support.

The residences, at 329 Cloverdale Ave. and 345 Crown St., had come before Council for consideration of conditional-use permits to retain two-unit dwellings in an area zoned for single-family usage. While already established as legal nonconforming duplexes, the residences had reverted back to single-family use in accordance with Akron law because they had been vacant for two years.

“I know that the neighbors don’t want” the two-unit dwellings, Councilwoman Linda Omobien (D-at large) said during the Planning Committee meeting. “People need to have some control over their neighborhood.”

The committee discussed the timing of giving the orders that the residences must cease to have two dwellings. Councilman Mike Freeman (D-Ward 9) noted the time of year and cold weather as a reason not to effectively evict residents. The committee and Planning Department concluded the owners would be given six months to conform.

Also at the meeting, Council unanimously approved a development agreement with Sterling Inc. to make improvements to a retention pond on the company’s property in extreme Northwest Akron. The improvements, which will cost $3.8 million, are intended to alleviate downstream flooding, which affect residents in the Lake O’ the Woods subdivision, as well as in Bath and Fairlawn.

The project is being funded by a $2 million loan from the city, a $1 million grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and $800,000 from Sterling, which will exercise an option to purchase adjacent property from the city. The city will retain ownership of the retention pond.

Councilwoman Marilyn Keith (D-Ward 8), in whose ward Sterling and Lake O’ the Woods is situated, said she has received numerous complaints about the flooding and supports the project.

“This is certainly an area of concern for Ward 8,” she said.

At the end of the meeting, Sommerville took a moment to congratulate Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth, who is retiring this month. A retirement party had taken place that morning inside the John S. Knight Center and reportedly included a marching band performance and fireworks.

“You can’t be replaced. One man cannot replace you,” Sommerville said. “You’re just so talented and you work so hard for the city. … I just wanted to say thank you for making Akron great.”

Due to Veterans Day, the next Akron City Council meeting will take place Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. in Downtown Akron. Committee meetings are set to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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