The long-discussed and debated Liberty Ford site and surrounding area on Aurora Road is at the crux of Issue 65, a new zoning classification for mixed-use development before voters during the Nov. 5 general election.
Solon voters are being asked if the zoning map and code should be amended to enact a new chapter an “MPD-A,” Mixed-use Planning District, in the area bounded by Solon Road, Station Street, Melbury Avenue and Aurora Road. Those voting yes would choose to rezone the area to a mixed-use district that covers 21.76 acres and allow the land to be developed for such uses as restaurants, retail, residential and office space.
The proposed rezoning requires that at least 66 percent of the area be commercial, while no less than 10 percent and no more than 33 percent are used for residential development. There is a cap of 200 maximum units allowed for residential.
A majority vote throughout the city and in Ward 6 is necessary for passage.
If approved at the ballot, the rezoning would allow for such things as restaurants, retail, offices, day care, recreation, fitness clubs and most retail and service uses. The current zoning at the 6.5-acre Liberty Ford site, which is under option to be purchased from Industrial Commercial Properties in Solon, is C-4 motorist service commercial and the surrounding acreage that is subject to the zone change is C-3 commercial.
“Our goal is to transform the site for more uses and more opportunities,” Mayor Edward H. Kraus said of the issue. If voters approve expanding the zoning, it helps not only the (former) Liberty Ford site, but also the other properties in the larger area.
“The goal is to lift everybody up,” Mayor Kraus said.
If approved, the current businesses will be able to operate as normal. The rezoning allows for more types of businesses, opportunities and a more vibrant space for businesses’ existing and future customers, the mayor said.
“That’s a big part of what we are trying to accomplish here,” the mayor continued, “maximizing the use of the property.
“If you look at the site, it is vacant,” he added of Liberty Ford. “You need to transform the site to maximize it.”
The rezoning for the mixed use district, which would be the first of its kind in the city, did not pass by a unanimous vote on City Council. Those opposing it raised issue with the density of the proposal, specifically the residential component which allows for up to 200 units, stating it was too high for the property size.
Property owner Michael Herrick, whose father Jim founded Liberty Ford, also opposed the residential component of the plan stating it is too low and will not make for a successful development. Mr. Herrick moved his dealership from Solon to Aurora last year after a disagreement with the former city administration.
Councilman Robert N. Pelunis, who voted in opposition of the rezoning, said he is in favor of it with respect to the retail and commercial component.
“I’m even in favor of the residential,” he said, “however, I’m not in favor of the apartment ratio for the residential section.”
Mr. Pelunis said that, after hearing comments from residents and their concerns, he attempted to modify the number of units in the residential section, in addition to making some portion of them townhouses or other types of uses other than apartments.
“A lot of residents have contacted me and would like townhouses or some type of a living environment, other than a high-rise apartment building,” Mr. Pelunis said. “The density of the project as proposed with 200 apartment units and a hotel and retail is too much for this site.
“I’m in favor of even having residential there, but not in favor of having that many units,” he said. He had proposed 35-40 units, “but I was told that is not what the developers wanted.”
Mr. Pelunis said it is ultimately up to the voters of the city to decide. He had hoped for more discussion on council before sending the matter to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, he said.
“Sometimes apartments get a negative connotation so to speak,” Mayor Kraus said, “but high-end apartments are something that we need desperately in the community.
“We have apartments, but I think there is a market for high-end,” he said. The mayor said that it would satisfy the empty nesters or young professionals who prefer apartment living with next to no maintenance and increased amenities.
Developers have indicated the units would mainly be one bedroom measuring 850 square feet with rents beginning at $1,500 a month. They can go as high as $2,500-$3,000 depending if two bedroom units are peppered in.
Mayor Kraus said this is the type of use seen at such developments as Pinecrest in Orange Village. With restaurants nearby, which are also planned as part of this redevelopment, foot traffic will be plentiful.
“I think we have to get over that fear of apartments,” the mayor said. “I don’t think it’s fair.
“Some people do want apartments and I think we should not demonize people who don’t buy a home,” Mayor Kraus added. “Some may not be able to afford it or have a large down payment.”
The mayor said the key is to keep these units “high end.
“That is the goal of the developer, to do something really high quality.”
Eleanor Melzer, a 50-year Solon resident who lives in Ward 6, said she thinks the rezoning is a good idea.
“It will get rid of the eyesore we have there now,” Ms. Melzer, 90, said. While she will vote in favor of the issue on Nov. 5, she said she does not think the developers can put in all that they say on the site, especially the apartments.
“There is not enough parking spaces there,” she said.
Solon resident Mike Olenik, 76, said he favors the rezoning, including the residential component.
“I think it is a great idea,” said Mr. Olenik, who resides in Ward 6. “Solon will really come into the 21st century.
“It will be a great addition the city with nice restaurants and a hotel,” he added. “I think apartments would be a great idea. Solon needs some upscale living apartments. I’m for it 100 percent.”
The mixed use zoning is a Planned Unit Development which gives complete control to the City Council to make determinations of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, Planning Director Robert S. Frankland added. The plan approved by council becomes the actual zoning on the site.
The MPD-A zoning will also require detailed landscape plans and a minimum of 25 percent green space. Also, traffic studies are required under the ordinance and will be conducted by the developer. City Council and the planning commission can require additional studies if necessary.
If Issue 65 fails at the ballot, the zoning will remain the same. The current zoning at the former Liberty Ford site is limited to hotels, car sales/dealerships, automotive repair centers, office use and gas stations.