Tempers stay in check, concern over proposed development builds

COLUMBIANA – City residents turned out en masse Tuesday to give council their opinions of the latest new development planned for the former Lakefront Golf Course, and most were shocked and largely disappointed when council opted to table the mayor’s suggestion they were backing.

Mayor Bryan Blakeman opened the special meeting explaining he believes a need exists for an architectural review board.

“I personally want this architectural review board created because I believe that where there is one, home values are nicer,” he said.

The board was originally suggested by Old Saybrook resident Rob Struharik at the last council meeting after learning of the new development.

He and his father Bob own Master Plan Builders and were upset because they believe the development will feature an “88-bed man camp,” and that concern has rippled throughout the community.

The Struhariks came to that conclusion after Jeff Stoy of Pittsburgh-based Architectural Design Solutions said the development would include a single-story hotel geared toward workers in the oil and gas industry.

Blakeman said the purpose of the special meeting was to “quell some rumors” that have been going around.

“The rumor is that there is a said ‘man camp’ coming into town. There has not been one thing that has been brought to the planning commission that states that,” he said.

“To me there is a difference between motels and hotels. This was presented as a hotel,” he added.

The review board would be created by council for the purpose of preserving the value, appearance and use of property on which buildings are constructed, in addition to ensuring the public’s health, safety, convenience and welfare, and protecting real estate from decreasing in value.

A man who identified himself as Skip said he and his wife built a home in Saybrook two years ago, and don’t want to see the city change for the worst because of poor regulations.

“We didn’t come to Columbiana because we were forced to … I feel good about this place and I feel safe. We want this place to grow just like everyone else but it has to grow in an orderly fashion,” he said.

That the city could use more rules and regulations for new commercial development was echoed by resident after resident, with comments generating applause from those gathered.

Dani Clancy, who moved to the city four years ago from another state, said the same.

“We all want development, we all want growth, we all want nice businesses. We are all for what is happening in Columbiana, we just want it done properly and to make sure everyone is on the same page,” she said.

She added that while a “man camp” may not be coming to town now, the city should plan for the future.

“I think what we are proposing is to put those rules and regulations in place to prevent them from coming here,” she said.

Not everyone was in agreement, however.

Jacob Sevek, who lives on Fairfield School Road, said the last thing Columbiana needs is more big government.

Speaking of his family, he said, “If we wanted to live in Canfield or Poland where we are restricted, we would. If we wanted to live in an HOA (homeowners association), we would.”

He did say that reviewing ordinances and updating them as needed is beneficial, and the city should adjust ordinances to facilitate growth, but additional restrictions could “cripple Columbiana.”

He then questioned why no one opposed the development making headway at Firestone Farms not far from the state Route 14 and state Route 7 intersection.

“I didn’t hear anybody complain in December when they were talking about (that) … it doesn’t make sense people are picking and choosing which developments are going to be picked on or beat up on,” he said.

Rob Struharik said the difference between the two projects is the new development could potentially be funded by tax dollars through a TIF.

The TIF, which means tax increment financing, was suggested by local attorney Mark Hutson at the last council meeting, and would only pay for the needed water and sewer infrastructure to the development, which was estimated at $1.8 million.

Struharik said his concerns have to do with how long someone is allowed to stay in the new hotel, if recreational vehicles would be allowed on the premises, and the additional outside storage that comes from transient visitors.

As long as everything meets the state building department codes he is OK with it, he said.

It was determined during the meeting that it is a violation for someone to live in a recreational vehicle in city limits, with “living” defined as 30 days.

The 30-day time frame is also true for overnight accommodations like the Dutch Village Inn, at which point income tax would be collected.

New resident Jessica Boon said the city should consider that oil and gas workers will not stay forever.

She said the workers may only be around as long as they are working on a certain project, and after they leave town is the city going to be left with a dilapidated building?

She also said that as a mother of two she is concerned about the social implications that come with a “single story motel” in the community.

The hotel has been described as a motel by the Struhariks.

Stoy said after the meeting the hotel would accept guests that are not oil and gas workers and would not be a motel, since a motel features doors on the outside while a hotel features doors inside and a lobby, which the current designs include.

While the project is not officially out to bid it is being presented to contractors to determine a budget for a bid packet to be prepared, he added.

He also said he came to the meeting “expecting something different,” indicating he was invited under the guise of something else occurring.

Hutson was also at the meeting but did not speak. He is working alongside Architectural Design Solutions on the plans.

Bob Struharik, who had shouted at Hutson after the last meeting, said he was sorry for the things he said during that meeting. He and his family were upset with the attorney for how the plans were presented.

“I do apologize. I said a few things that I shouldn’t have said, but I do have a passion for this community,” he said.

He added the need for a review board exists for the same reason a charter review exists or computer software needs to be updated, and that is because things change over the years.

Blakeman asked council to weigh in. His request was met with silence, but Municipal Attorney Daniel Blasdell gave his input.

Blasdell said the city already has the proper procedures in place, and has for the last 40 years. The hotel/motel ordinance has been in place since 1969, with no changes.

He said when a new business comes to town, even one that is a permitted use such as a hotel in a C4 district which the new hotel would be, the owners and investors bear the burden of proof before the planning commission to gain their approval.

The new business has to meet the building code standards, which for commercial and residential in town are state codes and not local, they must provide the required site plans and meet zoning requirements, he said.

He also said the planning commission considers whether a business will be lasting before approving it, and site plans reviews are “quite comprehensive.”

Site plans, according to the city’s codified ordinances, take into consideration parking, setback and building height requirements, he noted.

“Our code, 1260.05, says if it is not permitted it is prohibited. In other words, nobody ever thought of a man camp. A man camp is not permitted, it is prohibited. You can’t do it,” he said.

After the meeting he said the planned hotel does not meet the definition of a “man camp.”

As for the TIF, that would be decided by council, not the planning commission, and the city should not approve that method unless all of their questions have been answered.

Blakeman made two motions before the close of the meeting, with the first being determining long-term stays for hotels, and the second being creation of the review board.

The first motion received no response from council and died and the second motion generated a response from Councilman Dick Simpson, who instead moved to table the matter.

Simpson’s motion passed council unanimously, which provoked boos and disdain from the public, with several commenting council should be ashamed and that they would remember the decision at the next election.

“I’m very upset. It’s not like we are asking for so much. Everybody came very respectfully with good points. I applaud the mayor, he seems to have our best interests, but I question the motives of some (on council). Everything needs changed, there is no harm in asking for some extra protection,” resident Cheryl Barillare said.

Planning commission chairwoman Donna Bekar said afterwards she has faith in Stoy and Hutson, and pointed out both are Columbiana residents with family graduated from or currently attending the local school district. She believes they have the best interests of the city in mind and would not promote something that would result in property value decline or appearance.

She also said oil and gas workers are required to pass drug tests and doesn’t believe they will bring crime or other ill will to the city.

Council President Lowell Schloneger declined to comment on why he approved tabling and said council members had already agreed among themselves they would not provide comments that evening.