CHAGRIN FALLS — A referendum petition challenging a zone change that proponents say would further damage an already-struggling retail community, were filed too late for the Nov. 2 general election and must now wait until the May 2022 primary election.

The change allows retail service businesses, such as barbershops, to occupy office buildings which were left with an abundance of vacant space as result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The missed filing deadline does not mean retail services can immediately take over vacant office spaces. By law, the referendum process stops the law from taking effect until voters decide.

Referendum sponsor Chris Swanson, owner of the Mug and Brush barbershop in the Chagrin Falls Shopping Plaza, confirmed the snag in plans to reverse the change Village Council approved earlier this summer.

This week, he said he is convinced more than ever that enlarging the retail footprint in the village is a bad idea and has heard from many others who agree.

The change came after office building owner Larry Shibley was turned down by council when he appealed a Board of Zoning Appeals decision on a variance allowing a barber shop to open in one of Mr. Shibley’s Bell Street office buildings.

At the time Mr. Shibley stated he and his fellow office building landlords were suffering the loss of office tenants who left during the pandemic and who did not come back after it was safe to do so.

The issue went to Village Council which upheld the appeals board decision, but responded to the situation by asking the Planning and Zoning Commission to study the issue and recommend, or not, a remedy.

Planners responded by suggesting office buildings could dedicate 30 percent of gross square footage to retail service uses. Council approved it early this summer.

Mr. Swanson said what resulted was too-vague zoning language and warned adding competition to an already weakened climate would further cut into profits for existing businesses and impact an already evaporating workforce.

It is already happening, he said, pointing to business, even as large as Starbucks, that have been forced to cut hours of operation.

He noted one critic told him employees would materialize once September rolled around and unemployment benefits dried up.

“So, here we are in September and Starbucks is closing early, existing retail establishments are still struggling and we have yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Swanson said.

Five Chagrin Falls charter amendments will occupy the issues section of the Nov. 2 ballot and provides:

■ All seven council members be elected for a four-year term which will be staggered so not every seat is elected in the same year.

■ A longer learning curve from the previous two-year terms, allows council members to become more proficient and effective.

■ For succession of the mayor should he or she be unable to fulfill the balance of the current term by having the president of council take over until an election can be held to determine a successor for the balance of the term.

■ It also allows an earlier mayoral election date if the president of council declines to serve.

■ Provides that the village charter prevail in the event an initiative petition conflicts with the Ohio Revised Code and for public hearings of initiative petitions.

■ Provides an initiative to amend the Planning and Zoning Code and/or the Zoning Map of the Village be read by title at three consecutive meetings of council and to make grammatical errors and numerical revisions.

■ Provides Council, Council committee, boards, commissions and other administrative bodies may meet live and/or by teleconference, video conference or other similar electronic technologies and allowing executive sessions with legal counsel.

A veteran reporter and columnist, Barbara Christian has been covering Chagrin Falls since 1967 and is currently responsible for Chagrin Falls village events, government and school board news along with her weekly column "Window on Main Street."

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