City planners opened a public hearing last week on a proposed new zoning classification to accommodate individuals with special needs.

The commission tabled the matter and will continue the public hearing at its next meeting, and a vote is expected to be taken at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15. The issue is planned to be before city voters in March of 2020.

Solon resident Ara Bagdasarian, who presented to city officials in May details of a proposal to build a $3 million nonprofit project for people with disabilities to live called Solon Community Living, said the adoption of this new classification could be considered “groundbreaking” for the city.

“Our goal is to have this special needs zoning language approved on the March 17, 2020, ballot, and to answer questions and get feedback,” Mr. Bagdasarian said.

About 30 residents gathered for the public hearing, including families and adult children with special needs.

“This community has embraced people with special needs, and this is the right place for this project,” Mr. Bagdasarian said.

“I fully support everything you’ve done and really appreciate it,” said Solon resident Stephen Fine, who has an adult son with special needs.

The R-3-C Multi-Family Special Needs zoning is specifically designed to permit developments that accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities, explained Planning Director Robert S. Frankland, who drafted the zoning language.

The zoning requires a minimum project area of 3 acres and a maximum density level of five units per acre. Permitted uses include single family, two family and multi-family residences in both independent and assisted living configurations.

The land targeted for the development is about 4 acres of city-owned property on Aurora Road just west of Portz Parkway. City Council approved earlier this year a motion to draft the zoning language that would align with this vision.

“The city needs to respond to the needs of the community,” Mayor Edward H. Kraus, a member of the Planning Commission, said. “We have done that in the past and created the senior housing district at Carrington Court and others.

“We have to understand the needs and respond by diversifying our housing stock to meet the needs of the community and this is one way for us to do that,” Mayor Kraus said.

Leslie Bagdasarian explained that the plan calls for 10-12 high-quality, two bedroom units with a minimum of one trained staff onsite 24 hours a day seven days a week.

She showed the commission prototypes of what the housing would look like. They had garages attached for soundproof and privacy reasons, with each unit measuring about 1,000 square feet.

“We really want to make them nice units because we want them to last,” she said.

The Bagdasarians have two grown children, Alex and Julie, who have Fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes intellectual disability and cognitive impairment.

The Bagdasarians said their desire is for a community for their children and others to live in after they have passed away, a community that is accessible by walking to many city amenities, including the Solon Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library, the Community Park and the Solon Community Center. It will also give families peace of mind, they said.

Currently, there is no zoning in place for young adults with disabilities under 50 to live. This concept differs from traditional group homes, a handful of which are already located in Solon. Solon Community Living plans to enter into an agreement with Welcome House, an experienced provider for Professional Property Management and Service Coordination.

The zone change would need a majority vote both in Ward 6 and citywide to pass.

During the public hearing, the Bagdasarians fielded questions from the commission members.

Mayor Kraus asked if there will there be communal space. Mrs. Bagdasarian said yes, there will be a communal room measuring about 800-1,000 square feet to watch TV and other activities.

“But there is a rec center right behind it,” she said. Some similar projects in other areas are having to build gymnasiums and pools, “but we have that on site” (with the rec center), she noted.

Commission member William Mazur asked if the streets within this area will be public or private.

Mr. Bagdasarian said their hope and goal is that they become public streets.

“Ideally, we would love that as it helps with maintenance,” he said.

Mayor Kraus also asked if the staff person will have his or her own home on the site.

Mr. Bagdasarian said there is a small home the nonprofit purchased on the site and it would be their desire to possibly offer it to a caregiver at a reduced rent or no rent “to make it a career versus a job” or it could potentially be an office for Welcome House.

Mrs. Bagdasarian continued that the residents in the community will have varying needs. Some will be relatively independent with someone stopping in once in a while to check on them, while others may have a caregiver living with them, such as a mother or brother.

Mr. Mazur asked who will own the location.

Mr. Bagdasarian said it will be Solon Community Living, which is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization. People living there will pay rent.

Mr. Bagdasarian thanked the dais and Mr. Frankland for all the work done on this project thus far.

“You couldn’t ask for a better location,” than Solon, he said.

City Council also plans to hold public hearings on the rezoning following the planning commission review. The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections would need notified of the rezoning issue by Dec. 11 to meet the deadlines for the March 2020 ballot.

For the last decade, Sue Reid has covered the government, business climate and residents of Solon. A Times reporter for 22 years, Ms. Reid has earned commendations from the Ohio Newspaper Association and Cleveland Press Association.

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