AKRON, Ohio — A plan for a residential development at White Pond in West Akron that has kept city government and opponents in a frenzied back-and-forth for several weeks reached a fever pitch Monday night when City Council approved the measure.
Leading up to the 7-6 vote, Council President Margo Sommerville, Ward 3, several times requested quiet in the chambers as dissenting voices could be heard from the public area while council members voiced final thoughts.
When the vote was tallied, discontent from residents holding signs that read “Save our greenspace,” and “Don’t poison us” was loud enough for Sommerville to ask police to escort those in the chamber from the room.
At issue is a plan for Triton Properties Ventures LLC to buy 65 acres of city-owned property for $750,000 to build townhomes and apartments with retail space, as well as a pool, a tennis court, a dog park and pickle ball courts.
Those opposed have cited an array of concerns, from congested traffic to harm to wetlands, as well as damage to the tree canopy believed to provide habitat for the endangered Indiana bat.
Prior to asking for the vote, Council Vice President Jeff Fusco, at-large, who chairs the planning committee, acknowledged the amount of public engagement the development had elicited, saying more than 130 emails had been sent to council, over 400 minutes of public comments heard and five readings were given on legislation to sell the land.
Fusco said every request the public made for information had been provided, which elicited grumbles from opponents.
Opponents had asked the city to postpone a vote on the development until April while questions are answered, which the city said it could not do because the developer would walk away.
Monday night, Councilwoman Tara Mosely, Ward 5, requested the vote be postponed to allow residents to again give input, but the proposal was voted down.
Councilman Shammas Malik, Ward 8, requested to speak, saying he would not support sale of the property.
“With hundreds of residents raising their voices, you know, in alarm over the White Pond development, our city government should listen, we should take the time to fully consider before making a significant and irreversible decision,” he said. “Instead, we're here for a final vote on the sale of the property.”
Councilman Mike Freeman, Ward 9, who has served on City Council for 20 years, said he remembers when the city voted to buy and develop the property 15 years ago, and planned to vote “yes” on the project as he had back then.
The city bought the land in 2006, with the intent to ready it for office development.
Councilwomen Nancy Holland, Ward 1, said she is in favor of postponing the vote because of environmental reports generated when the property was being prepped for commercial use. The reports show the soil has varying amounts of cadmium, arsenic, lead and barium, all of which can be toxic depending on the concentration.
Holland pointed out that standards for developing for commercial use are different than those when the use is residential.
“I am concerned that what we may be doing here, if we go forward with this development without full information and provision within the development agreement and for the safety of our citizens, present and future, is that we will be handing a dangerous and concerning situation to of all people, renters,” she said.
Fusco said the developer is responsible for taking out permits and meeting the standards required by Ohio EPA, Army Corps of Engineers and other regulatory agencies, and that the city has the first option to buy the land back if the developer can’t meet the standards.
The city issued an FAQ document when residents voiced a roster of specific concerns about the environmental problems they associated with the development.
Following the council meeting, University of Akron assistant professor Meghan Lugo said, despite the FAQ, the city has done little to appease those opposing the project.
Changes made to the plan exacerbated some of the problems opponents pointed out, she said, pointing to recent changes in the development layout that would increase the number of residential units from 245 to 255.
“We do not agree with the narrative that they have met us in the middle, and that they have addressed our concerns and our questions,” she said. “We acknowledge that changes were made. But those changes did not adequately address our concerns. And in fact, some of the changes now present even more questions.”
Opponents recently used public records to generate their own report on the property.
“To the best of our knowledge, this report provides enough information to question the sale of White Pond land and encourage Akron City Councilors [sic] to reconsider the deal,” they wrote.
The report highlights additional environmental concerns and questions potential revenue that could be generated from gas and oil wells on the land.