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Council OKs new Dollar General in Merriman Valley

4/17/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Engineering department gives presentation on Safe Routes to Schools

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron City Council heard input on two West Akron requests at its April 14 meeting.

Public hearings took place on two requests for conditional-use permits. The first request, which was approved by Council, pertained to a new Dollar General location at 1730 Merriman Road. A current structure at that address will be razed, and a new building constructed. The current Dollar General store nearby is being vacated.

Because the site plan contains only 30 parking spaces, fewer that the city’s required 36, a conditional use was necessary.

Ward 8 Councilwoman Marilyn Keith, who represents the area, said the construction of the new building will be an improvement to the area. She stressed there are several conditions the business must comply with, including adequate lighting.

Jeff Paulson, a senior engineer with Hurley and Stewart in Kalamazoo, Mich., who spoke on behalf of the developer, said he expects the project will begin in midsummer.

The second conditional-use request is for a residentially zoned house at 1480 W. Market St. to be converted into an office use.

Planning Committee Chairman Jeff Fusco (D-at large) said the petitioner’s representative was unable to be at Council’s meeting April 14 due to Passover and intends to appear at next week’s meeting. Therefore, Council placed the item on time and will discuss it again next week.

In the meantime, however, several neighbors spoke against the conditional use during the public hearing.

Susan Parker and Jennifer Smee, both of whom live on West Market Street, presented a petition they said contains 62 signatures opposing the request.

The neighbors’ main concern, they said, is that changing the residential use of the house would set a precedent to allow commercializing of the area.

“We want to keep that neighborhood feel,” Parker said.

Andy Smee, of West Market Street, and Matt Kandel, of Melbourne Avenue, stressed the historical value of the house in question and the homes in the neighborhood.

“That neighborhood has extreme stability,” Kandel said. “It’s extremely desirable.”

Keith also represents the area. She said she doesn’t fault the petitioner for making the request, but she hopes Council hears the collective voice of the residents who spoke at the public hearing.

“This is block watches in action,” she said. “The block watch captains got ahold of it, and they said, ‘Is this what you want for your neighborhood?’”

She added she had received 14 emails that day from people who were unable to attend the public hearing or sign the petition opposing the request.

“I think that speaks loud and clear,” she said.

In other business, at a special session in the afternoon, a handful of Council members heard an update on the city’s and Akron Public Schools’ Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. The presentation was given by Andy Davis, of the city’s Traffic Engineering Bureau and the SRTS coordinator.

David said the city received $250,000 in funding from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (AMATS), along with a small local match, to develop a needs assessment and a plan for encouraging and enabling more children to walk to school. SRTS kicked off last fall at Helen Arnold Community Learning Center, he said.

Davis said only 15 percent of APS students walk to school, and the rest ride to school in buses or personal vehicles.

While the No. 1 concern that prevents children from walking or riding bikes to school is the threat of crime and violence, some other deterrents include stray dogs or deer that frighten the children and the lack of snow removal on sidewalks, Davis said.

He said input is needed from ward Council members on neighborhood concerns to allow SRTS officials to hone in on local needs. Once the needs assessment is complete, he said, it will allow the city to apply for additional grant funding from ODOT.

Some of the ideas to encourage walking to school put forth by SRTS include a walking school bus, remote drop-offs for students who don’t live near their school, and signage and rapid flash beacons.

Also April 14 at the regular Council meeting, Councilwoman Linda Omobien (D-at large) made a follow-up statement regarding East Akron Community House (EACH), a topic that has dominated recent Council meetings.

Omobien commended Mayor Don Plusquellic (who was not present at the Council meeting) for appointing a committee to examine the future opportunities of the financially troubled EACH. [For more on the committee appointment, see the News & Notes item on Page 41.]

However, she wanted to stress she felt the issue fell into the purview of Council’s Health and Human Services Committee, which she chairs, and she has several times publicly offered to lead an effort to help EACH.

“I did make myself available to address the issue,” she said.

Furthermore, she takes affront to Councilwoman Tara Mosely-Samples (D-Ward 5) being “totally ignored” and left off the committee, calling it “a sign of ultimate disrespect.”

She put forth her opinion that a “study” of the issue is unnecessary and that Council should move quickly to help EACH, which has a 103-year history of offering services to the East Akron neighborhood.

Councilman Michael Williams (D-at large) said he concurred with Omobien’s statements and spent time over the weekend meeting with the current EACH board.

“It’s a good board,” he said. “They are doing all the things necessary to move that organization forward.”

He added the city should take a leadership role in the effort to save EACH.

City Planning Director Marco Sommerville commented that Plusquellic “is working on a number of issues, trying to preserve what takes place at East Akron Community House.”

The next Akron City Council meeting will take place April 21 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers, 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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