Residents in the Montrose-area of Fairlawn, Ohio have been stewing for weeks over what might happen to them across the road in Copley, Ohio. In late April Fairlawn residents met to talk over a rumored Wal-Mart superstore on vacant land on Rothrock Road. The Mayor of Fairlawn, Bill Roth, suggested to homeowners who live in the Rosemont Ridge, Enclave, Rothrock Place and Copley Place subdivisions, that they might have to take action to turn their roads into cul-de-sacs — a sort of ‘circle the wagons’ approach to keep cars from cutting through their streets on the way to chinese imports. The commercially zoned land is located just over the Fairlawn border in Copley Township. The superstore will cause the existing Wal-Mart discount store one mile away to go dark. That store is 110,000 s.f. — the size of some of Wal-Mart’s smaller superstore formats. The Mayor quoted the developer as saying in late April that he is planning a big box store, but would not identify which store it was. ”The scary part,” Mayor Roth was quoted as saying by the Akron Beacon Journal, “is we know that sooner or later (this land) is going to be developed, and since it’s outside Fairlawn we have no control over what goes on.” Copley Township Trustee Dale Panovich said the developer had only submitted an aerial photo to the township as of late April. ”It is not a site plan,” she said. ”That is all Copley Township has at this point.” Roth admitted that his preference is to have Wal-Mart expand its Fairlawn store at the Rosemont shopping center on West Market Street. The owner of the current Wal-Mart site has encouraged them to expand on site. “They are being very closemouthed otherwise,” he told the Akron Leader. ”They have the room if they want to do it,” Mayor Roth said. ”They acknowledge that they could expand and stay on the site. And they acknowledge there is great traffic (for commerce) on West Market Street.” The Sam’s Club at Rosemont Commons will stay where it is. Panovich told residents that the developer has to submit a site plan to Copley officials and to the Summit County Council and the Summit County Engineer’s Office. The project itself will border county roads, so traffic issues will come before the county. Area residents have voiced their opposition to the big box plan by circulating a petition that calls for Rothrock Road, where the supercenter would be, to be widened from two to five lanes — at the developer’s expense. Neighbors have also expressed concerns over crime and traffic congestion, and the 24/7 hours of operation. But when the neighbors talked about hiring a land use attorney, the Mayor suggested that they not take that next step until they find out what plans are for the property. And the official from Copley, told residents to wait until the site plan is actually submitted before organizing opposition. That bit of self-serving advice is the worst recommendation the citizens could follow. By the time a site plan is filed, residents of Copley will have lost out on two important options now in their hands: enactment of a six month moratorium on large scale retail projects, or a size cap on retail stores. Both would be far preferable to sitting on their hands.
This week, residents in the Montrose and Fairlawn neighborhoods started to organize. It is expected soon that lawnsigns reading, “Where is Wal-Mart Going?” will appear soon. Residents say they would hate to see the current Wal-Mart (and perhaps Sams Club) empty for an extended period of time like we experienced with K-Mart. Or, will they see another big box store like Target move west to the Wal-Mart location and leave an empty store at the Fairlawn Town Center? The area really does not need more grocery stores. “If Wal-Mart selects the Rothrock site,” one resident asked, “then who pays for the widening of Rothrock Road to accommodate the traffic volume? Will our politicians use our tax dollars to pay for the new roadway to accommodate Wal-Mart? Or will they force Wal-Mart to pay for the roadway, utilities, upgraded law enforcement, fire protection, and enhanced storm water protection for those downstream?” Rothrock cannot handle such traffic volume and neither Copley nor Summit County has the funds to improve the road to accommodate such a zoning. The land should have been zoned for offices or higher density residential to act as a buffer between the residential areas and the commercial lands along Market street. The group says they are raising money to hire a land use attorney and engineering consultants when and if its necessary, to battle any commercial use along Rothrock road including Wal-Mart. Readers are urged to email Copley Trustee Dale Panovich at [email protected] with this message: “Dear Trustee Panovich, the proposed Wal-Mart move one mile down the road to a larger location may make some sense in Bentonville, but it makes little sense for Copley or its neighboring towns. Another superstore adds little value economically, since the only new aspect is the grocery store component — and your area is not short of grocery stores. You also have 12 Wal-Marts within 20 miles of Copley, including a supercenter 5 miles away in Wadsworth. Instead of stretching the carrying capacity of Rothrock Road, Copley should immediately pass a six month moratorium on retail developments exceeding 60,000 s.f., so your community can plan for the future, and not be swamped with suburban sprawl. Be proactive. Don’t tell residents to wait for a site plan to be filed. Your choice now is to lead growth or follow it. Wouldn’t you rather make big box stores fit your plan, than have Copley fit theirs? It’s not how big you grow — but how you grow big.”