Despite the impact of a worldwide pandemic, the City of Solon saw signs of hope during a dismal 2020. From new developments to plans for the city’s first housing for individuals with special needs, Solon moved forward, rounding out the year with a resolution rooted in optimism that would ban all forms of hate and promote equality among all races.
The year started off strong, with plans outlined for the city’s bicentennial. Kicking off the monumental year was a winterfest celebration that drew more than 1,000 individuals to the Solon Community Center. From ice sculptors and aerial artists to performers on stilts and jugglers, the evening celebration drew people of all ages.
Little did organizers know that this would be the only in-person celebration due to the coronavirus pandemic that hit two months later.
Residents last year also saw an attempt by area historians to save the historical Lynch house from the wrecking ball. In early March of 2020, the home finally came down, closing a chapter of a long-debated issue. The demolition cost $14,000 and, despite protestors who stood in the cold along its front on Bainbridge Road, the city moved ahead based on the home’s level of disrepair. Mayor Edward H. Kraus committed to working collaboratively with the Solon Historical Society and community to make sure a nice park is created in its place, as well as renovations done to both the historical society and the historical Bull home, which saw significant upgrades last spring.
The city also appointed a new fire chief in 2020, with Mark Vedder leading the department throughout the challenges of the pandemic. Mr. Vedder, a resident of Chagrin Falls, was no stranger to Solon fire, returning to the city after retiring from Solon in May of 2013 after 34 years of service. He previously held the role of battalion chief beginning in 2001 prior to his retirement.
Mr. Vedder succeeded longtime chief William J. Shaw in the position, who retired.
Also retiring in 2020 was Solon resident and longtime Recreation Director Donald W. Holub, who also ran Grantwood Golf Course. Mr. Holub was replaced by city resident Rich Parker.
During the 2020 primary election, city voters approved a new zoning classification for individuals with special needs. Issue 19 paved the way for a $3 million Solon Community Living project, which is being planned for about 4 acres at the Southwest corner of Aurora Road and Portz Parkway. The project is the brainchild of city residents Ara and Leslie Bagdasarian, whose two grown children have Fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder. Solon Community Living, planned for an area that is zoned R-3-C Multi-Family Residential-Special Needs, will consist of 10-12 high-quality, two-bedroom units.
By year’s end, plans continued to be ironed out, with a target construction start slated for late 2021 or early 2022.
A highly contagious virus took root, turning the world upside down beginning in March. Solon was among the communities seeing the economic impact. The loss by year’s end was not as significant as first predicted, and the city cut its budget, with a commitment from the administration to not let those cuts affect full-time staff. Mitigation efforts to offset the $3 million to $4 million projected loss in revenue due to the virus included a hiring freeze, the postponement of certain projects and the cancellation of many events. Despite the loss in revenue and cuts, the administration granted a pay raise to employees not covered under a collective bargaining agreement. That raise mirrors what is spelled out in the contracts for union employees.
Despite the economic impacts, the city saw new businesses in 2020, as well as the opening of the $35 million Vitalia Active Adult Community on Kruse Drive. The development consists of a 110,000 square foot independent living building as well as an assisted living and memory care building which will measure 60,000 square feet.
Omni developers moved their headquarters from Beachwood to Solon, occupying a 15,000-square-foot building across the parking lot of the independent living building.
Amenities of the complex include an expansive and modern dining room, bistro area, hair salon, library, swimming pool, theater room and more. Residents began moving in on Sept. 1.
Another option for those 50 and over, which got rolling in 2020 following the approval by city voters of Issue 46 in the fall, was Hawthorne Golf Estates, a $40 million senior living development adjacent to the Hawthorne Valley Country Club. The rezoning created a new chapter to the city’s zoning code and is known as R-2-A (one and two family residential senior citizen). It will be used for the 32 acres of land adjacent to the former Hawthorne Valley Country Club on Aurora Road.
Developers of the new senior site committed to preserving the 150 acres of the former golf course as perpetual green space.
Hawthorne Golf Estates will consist of 105 single family residential homes for people 50 and older.
The city also saw loss this year as the community mourned the loss of longtime Solon City School District Superintendent Joseph V. Regano, who served the district for 35 years. He was remembered as a strong and compassionate leader who touched countless lives.
Solon rounded out a tumultuous year on a positive note, presenting a resolution condemning racism and committing to improving the quality of life and health of minority residents in the city.
The brainchild of Solon Councilman Eugene Macke Bentley, the resolution spelled out the commitment of the city to promote racial equitable hiring practices and to launch a community effort to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.