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Council OKs Highland Square development

6/20/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Also, food truck conversation continues

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron City Council gave its unanimous approval June 17 to much discussed legislation that paves the way for new development in Highland Square.

After weeks of discussion and dissention that included the protest of the planned removal of an ash tree, Council approved a conditional-use permit and development agreement to allow for the development of a retail and apartment building at 795 W. Market St.

Applicant Manuel Nemer agreed to certain conditions to allow for the project to go forward, including changes to lighting and parking configuration and the creation of a cul-de-sac to improve traffic flow. Per the development agreement, the city will undertake some public improvements in support of the project, including design and engineering work for the parking lot.

Planning Committee Chairman Jeff Fusco (D-at large), noting the promise of a lawsuit in opposition of the project, stressed that many weeks of discussion took place regarding the project and much time was allowed before Council voted in order for Council members to ask and answer questions.

Fusco said Council and city officials more than met their burden to weigh all of the factors the city charter requires must be taken into consideration.

“I believe we not only have met, but we have exceeded our responsibilities,” he said.

Later, during public comments, North Highland Avenue resident Stephen Brooks thanked Council for its vote and said the political process played out as it should. He estimated that 80 percent of the changes made to the plan were the result of suggestions by residents that were approved by the Nemer family.

“As usual, everyone is not happy … but the process really did work,” he said.

In other legislative action, Council approved:

  • the reappointment of Stephen Stock and the appointments of Candace Campbell Jackson and John Otterman to the Civil Service Commission;
  • an ordinance declaring Council’s opposition to the application for a liquor permit for a Dollar General store at 1045 Vernon Odom Blvd. in West Akron. Councilwoman Margo Sommerville (D-Ward 3) requested the legislation, saying the store is located 8 feet from Centenary United Methodist Church, which also houses a daycare, and in an area already saturated with businesses that hold liquor permits; and
  • to apply for and enter into agreements for funding from the Ohio Public Works Commission’s Local Transportation Improvement Program and the State Capital Improvements Program. If awarded in full, nearly $31 million would go toward numerous public improvement projects, including sanitary sewer reconstruction, water main replacement and the Smith Road storm sewer.

In other business, the food truck conversation begun last week during the public comment period ripened into a debate.

Last week, several food truck operators appeared before City Council to ask for changes in the city code, which prohibits sale of goods from a vehicle, excluding ice cream trucks. The operators are asking for the ability to park their food trucks and do business in Akron, and they state their business would be good for the local economy.

Jeff Winer and Steve Sabo attended the June 17 Council meeting, too, but this time their message did not go unchallenged.

Representing Downtown Akron Partnership, Suzie Graham stated a survey of independent downtown restaurants indicates the operation of food trucks could be a detriment. Food trucks, she stated, “do not strengthen or sustain our community in the same tax-based way as brick and mortar restaurants.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Jeff Blake, of Insomnia Cookies, and Mark Graziani, of Street Treats Grill.

“Let’s keep the business here in Akron,” said Blake.

“It’s not an equal playing field,” added Graziani, who suggested allowing for food trucks to operate where there is a need, such as in the area of the Towpath Trail.

Graham expressed the desire to work with food truck operators and include them when possible, but said they wouldn’t be appropriate downtown.

Sabo said the operators are asking for the opportunity to operate as small-business owners in Summit County, and food trucks see opposition from restaurants in every city in which they operate, which includes Cleveland and Canton.

“I think we can come up with some sort of resolution here,” he said. “If we could come up with some sort of system, this could work.”

The next Akron City Council meeting will take place June 24 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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