Residents in Lorain, Ohio think that Home Depot is all wet. The giant home improvement chain wants to locate a store on 63.5 acres of land, destroying all the wetlands on the site. The Church on the North Coast, which owns the property, is looking to cash out by selling the parcel to Home Depot. But neighbors are doing more than praying it won’t happen. At a hearing this week of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, residents testified that the Church’s plan was “madness”, according to the Morning Journal newspaper. As usual, the developer has given the massive project a misleading name — Lighthouse Village — and have asked the Ohio EPA to grant them a wetland permit for 16 acres on the parcel, by offering to replicate wetlands elsewhere on only .645 acres of land. One member of the Lorain City Council told the EPA, ”We have empty buildings all over the city.” The Church, which stands to make millions on the land deal, promised that the proposed store would stimulate the economy, and be ”mutually beneficial” to the city. They offered no economic analysis to bolster that theory. Based on Ohio EPA standards, because the wetlands on this site are larger than half an acre, mitigation must happen locally, or elsewhere. In this case, the EPA seemed content to allow the developer to hire his own consultant to delineate the wetlands, but several residents suggested that the consultant’s report was self-serving because the developer paid for it. This land is not zoned correctly, and ironically, the will of the woman who owned the land had stipulated that the land be used for the benefit of women and children. It’s hard to see how Home Depot is going to benefit women and children, except that they won’t get their feet wet walking in the wetlands.
Residents in Lorain do not have to make compromises on this project. The main line of attack is on the rezoning of the parcel. Rezoning is not a right, it’s a discretionary decision made by the Lorain City Council. If this huge project is incompatible with surrounding residential uses, it can be denied. If the residents of Lorain don’t like it, they can take the city to court and delay any progress on the site for a year or longer. Home Depot’s role in this mess is critical. The company is letting the developer in this case do all the heavy lifting. But if Home Depot were truly concerned about its impact on communities, it would say to developers, ‘Don’t bring us any land that is not already zoned commercial, and keep us out of wetlands.’ But the fact is, these developers chose the land they want first, and only look at the zoning after the fact. Which is why so many residents in Lorain are up in arms, and calling the project “madness.” But it’s not madness to Home Depot, it’s just business as usual