Almost two years ago, citizens in the neighboring towns of Fairlawn and Copley, Ohio got some big news: Wal-Mart was dropping plans to build a new superstore in their communities just a short drive from an existing Wal-Mart. But with Wal-Mart, it’s not even over when the fat company sings.
A superstore project that residents thought was dead is now back under review, and is seen by some as one town’s revenge upon the other.
In the week of December 20, 2008, the headline in the Beacon Journal read: “There will be no Wal-Mart Superstore Built In Copley.”
Representatives of LRC Development began investigating in 2006 the possibility of putting a Wal-Mart Superstore on a vacant parcel of land along Rothrock Road in Copley. The city’s Administrator claimed at the time that Copley officials learned of the development when they were invited to a meeting about four years ago with the Summit County, Ohio engineer and officials in neighboring Fairlawn. The meeting was called to talk about infrastructure improvements required for the development to proceed.
There is an existing Wal-Mart store in Fairlawn. Residents in the Montrose-area of Fairlawn have been stewing for a couple of years now over what might happen across the road in Copley.
In April of 2008, Fairlawn residents met to talk about 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 the Wal-Mart developer was eyeing is located just over the Fairlawn border in Copley Township. A superstore in Copley would 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 April of 2008 that they were 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.”
One Copley Township Trustee said the developer had only submitted an aerial photo to the township as of late April, 2008. “It is not a site plan,” she said. “That is all Copley Township has at this point.”
Mayor Roth admitted that his preference was 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 had 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.”
In December of 2008, Wal-Mart officials decided the company was going to stay in Fairlawn after all, and instead of building a new store a mile away in Copley, they would spend $800,000 to renovate their Fairlawn store.
“It’s good news,” said Copley Township Trustee Helen Humphrys, who said she got a call from developer Larry Levy telling her “Wal-Mart is off the table.” “We didn’t want it [to] come to Copley,” Humphrys told the newspaper. “It would have just been a change in parking lots, not a new business coming into the area. The same store, just a different location. Fairlawn depends on income taxes; we depend on property taxes.”
Wal-Mart admitted that they never submitted a formal plan to Copley. But the company repeated its stock line: “We are always looking for new opportunities to serve our customers better.”
Copley’s town attorney told the Beacon Journal, “No one from Wal-Mart has applied for anything,” he said. “There have been some discussions, but just talking about something doesn’t mean something is going to happen.”
Mayor Bill Roth could hardly restrain his pleasure. “I am pleased Wal-Mart is re-investing in the community. It will prevent another empty storefront in Summit County. Every job is important in this economy.”
This week however, Wal-Mart changed its mind again — and announced that it was going back to its first plan to build a superstore in Copley. Residents opposed to the Wal-Mart project wrote this to Sprawl-Busters:
“The Citizens For a Better Montrose was recently formed by 6 shareholders of the
Enclave Cooperative Housing Association as a response to the proposed development of a 40-acre site across the street for a Wal-Mart SuperStore, a Sam’s Club and a gas station. We have increased in numbers to over 30 residents in in less than a week and
are moving forward in recruiting new neighbors and businesses.”
“The proposed development is in a isolated corner of rural Copley township between an interstate highway, the city of Fairlawn and a state highway. There already is a
Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club on this state highway in a well developed shopping area less than two miles away. The city and property owner have been trying to work with Wal-Mart to keep the stores in their present location. There is more than sufficient land on which to covert the existing Wal-Mart into one of their superstores and expand the Sam’s Club and there is easy access from two major thoroughfares to
“It’s a different story for the residents of the Enclave and other nearby Fairlawn residents. The proposed development, including a 24/7 gas station, built next to a wetland, will be built off a two lane road in an already congested area of homes and
condominiums with no easy access to this proposed shopping area. We have all the normal concerns about having a Wal-Mart in the area which will be multiplied in effect as it abuts a residential community of 104 condominiums, a 300+ unit up-scale
apartment community and about two hundred $300,000 -$700,000 homes.”
“We will be located directly across the street from the project and between it and the nearest exits from Interstate 77. We will have to cul-de sac our street to prevent it from being used as a shortcut to the stores to forestall a huge increase in car and truck traffic on one side of condo complex, leaving,but one side road to get to the Wal-Mart. The regional traffic impact will be severe and very expensive to rectify.”
“Two decades ago Fairlawn annexed the land where the three residential developments are and, allegedly, there has been a real ill feeling towards the city since this occurred by some of the Copley township trustees — and this project is viewed as revenge for annexing the land from the township by many.”
“This 40 acre property would be better suited for lighter commercial zoning and usage. Office buildings, retirement homes, restaurants and the like would be ideal in this residential neighborhood. We would like the zoning board to either lower the classification of this property to something more in harmony with its residential neighbors or to not grant the developer the variances in the current code necessary to build this monstrosity.”
In December of 2008, the city of Fairlawn gave Wal-Mart a permit for an “extensive” remodeling of their existing store in the Rosemont Commons mall. The building footprint would not change in size at all.
Mayor Roth pointed out the obvious: “Remodeling that site is very good news for our community. Frankly, to move a store one and a half miles to another location — especially that site — did not make sense to us.”
Even before a formal proposal was submitted to Fairlawn, the supercenter generated a lawsuit. A group called the Fairway Park Properties, LLC, owners of an apartment complex along Rothrock Road, filed a lawsuit in October, 2008, charging that the proposed location of the superstore would create a nuisance and lower property values. It asks the court to declare the maximum size of a retail building in Copley’s C-3 (Commercial) zone be limited to 82,544 square feet, and that retailers be limited to 45,000 square feet. The suit also asked the court to declare that developments with retailers occupying an average of 141,706 square feet must be located in an area zoned C-4.
According to the lawsuit, a 283,411-square-foot double-occupancy shopping center, consisting of 156,104- and 127,307-square-foot retailers, was proposed for the Copley site. The second anchor besides Wal-Mart was not named at the time, but it was learned later that it would be a Sam’s Club. Copley’s lawyer said he was asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, since no site plan was submitted, and Wal-Mart has backed out of any plans.
Neighbors of the proposed Wal-Mart in Copley had circulated a petition calling 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. Officials from Copley told residents they should wait until the site plan was actually submitted before organizing opposition.
But in May of 2008, residents in the Montrose and Fairlawn neighborhoods started to organize. “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 has been 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. When Wal-Mart announced that it was remodeling in Fairlawn, it looked as if the battle was over.
Readers are urged to email Copley Trustee Scott Dressler, the President of the Board of Trustees, at [email protected] with this message:
“Dear President Dressler, Wal-Mart is playing musical chairs with Copley and Fairlawn. But when the music stops, one of the communities is going to lose a seat. Trustee Humphreys was correct two years ago when she described the Wal-Mart superstore proposal as ‘just a change of parking lots.’
The proposed Wal-Mart move just one mile down the road to a larger location made little sense in 2008, and makes no more sense today. Residents were thrilled to hear Wal-Mart was abandoning its store plan for Copley.
This proposal added little value economically, since the only new aspect was 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 traffic carrying capacity of Rothrock Road, Copley should reject this reborn Wal-Mart so your community can plan for the future, and not be swamped with suburban sprawl.
This is not a jobs and revenues plan, because most of the current sales will come from existing merchants, including the Wal-Mart in Fairlawn. Your two communities should sit down together and plan on a regional basis for your future retail needs, instead of trying to steal each other’s malls.
The Fairlawn store can serve as the supercenter for your communities, avoiding the waste of consuming more land with little economic benefit to show for it.”