STRONGSVILLE – The proposed project that would redevelop the former Medical Mutual property at 17800 Royalton Road across from SouthPark Mall has been much talked about in recent months. Residents had the opportunity to give their feedback on the project during a public hearing at the Oct. 16 city council meeting inside the Michael Kalinich Sr. Council Chambers.

The question at hand is whether to rezone 3.6657 acres of the 21.478-acre parcel from GB (General Business) to R-RS (Restaurant-Recreational Services) to accommodate restaurants.

John Pinney, a representative for the developer, Somera Road, Inc. gave a presentation prior to public comment.

The Medical Mutual building was erected in 1990 and stood vacant for two years. The building was purchased out of receivership. Pinney stated the building needs $4 million in new capital.

“Based on our estimate, this building alone represents about 25 percent of your office market in Strongsville,” he said. “It’s a major drag on your fair market value for tax property purposes. It adversely impacts developers and real estate owners to secure debt from banks.”

Pinney stated the market does not support the site as an office building alone. He stated that without the retail component, the project will not function.

“The office rents alone do not support the needed investment in the building,” he said. “We want to attract top-tier tenants and generate significant payroll. We can’t do it with mid to low teens gross rents. That’s where the market is.”

There will not be a cut-in or through street added to the proposed project. All traffic would enter and exit from Royalton Road at the single light.

“We believe the current light at the intersection is adequate to handle the traffic,” said Pinney.

Pinney also stated the existing retention basin would be expanded and no trees would be removed.

Pinney told city council they should vote yes on rezoning based on economics. Estimated payroll in the building alone would be around $1 million. He stated the project could generate $1.3 million in property taxes, a significant portion going to the schools.

Public hearing
A number of individuals came to speak against the rezoning. One of those persons was Anthony Coyne, a land use lawyer speaking on behalf of the Visconsi Companies, owner and developer of the Plaza at SouthPark.

In a bit of irony, Coyne’s law firm was successful in suing the city of Strongsville in on behalf of the Costco project in 1998.

Coyne pointed out that Strongsville has 3,340,000 square feet of retail space. One-million square feet have been added since 2000.

“You’re in a period of time where you’ve got to be careful how you handle your retail business zoning,” he said. “The oversaturation of retail space is a big concern … We just can’t survive on chain restaurants. If you think you’re going to get net new jobs, think again. If you think you’re going to get net new tax revenues, think again. Council should study this further and not just take the word of the applicant about how they’re going to proceed.”

Traffic is an issue brought forth by a number of people who spoke at the public hearing. Bob Kmiecik, an attorney who represents condominium associations outside the buffer zone that borders the property, stated one traffic light will not control the traffic the project could potentially bring to the area.

“You could sit at that traffic light and have lunch,” he said. “My clients, the 40 families that live there, have to go here every day. They don’t have any choice …The point is we’re going to shoehorn establishments into this space and hope they stick around. What are we going to do in five years when these high-end businesses aren’t making money? Once you make this zoning change we’re done. Once you put money against quality of life, quality of life always loses.”

Oakwood Place resident Ron Schroth stated there is too much retail and accessing state Route 82 from Interstate 71 is “an absolute joke.”

“Traffic is absurd. I like the office space. We need more of that, not retail,” he said. “Rockne’s closed down and there are smaller ones that are being ignored at this point.”

Mike Catanzarite concurred with Schroth that the city does not need more retail and traffic is an issue.

“What would help our current retail today is more people in the office, yet we want to rezone land that’s currently zoned for office,” he said. “I work on Darice Parkway and live off Webster Road. It takes me 20 minutes to get to work. I’ve never opposed a plan, but I think we’re crazy with this thing.”

Kelly Kosek, who is running for an at-large council seat, implored council to vote on the rezoning that evening so residents would know which way council members voted prior to the Nov. 7 election.

She also pointed to traffic issues and the oversaturation of retail should the project go forth.

“I can’t imagine that single traffic light is going to be sufficient,” she said. “I, frankly, find it hard to believe that an office worker would not drive across the street to The Rail. There are other restaurants that are not that far either. Are you going to fail the residents on this? Strongsville City Council should be listening to the residents and not a New York City private equity firm.”

Cindy Smith, a 24-year resident of Ledgewood, is concerned regarding traffic in her neighborhood.

“If there are 500 people working in an office building, do you think they’re going to go down (state Route) 82? No, they’re going to cut through Ledgewood and that’s a very serious problem” she said.

Council is scheduled to vote on the rezoning at its next meeting on Monday, Nov. 6 at 8 p.m.