It was four years ago that Solon residents Ara and Leslie Bagdasarian identified a vision that involved the creation of a sustainable, safe housing community for their two adult special needs children. On the primary ballot March 17 is special needs zoning – one major step toward bringing that vision to life.

Before city voters is Issue 19, a proposed amendment to the zoning code that would enact a new zoning classification, R-3-C Multi-Family Residential-Special Needs to about 4 acres at the southwest corner of Aurora Road and Portz Parkway. The matter must receive an affirmative vote in the affected Ward 6 and citywide for passage.

“It’s inspiring that we are able to get this far,” Mr. Bagdasarian said. “We know there is a lot more work to do.

“It’s a long journey but the critical first foundation to making it happen (is the zoning),” he said.

The first of its kind in the city, the special needs zoning received unanimous support from City Council and the administration.

“We are encouraged by the support,” Mr. Bagdasarian said.

He and his wife have begun a grassroots effort promoting the ballot issue and educating the community.

They are making presentations to various city groups and organizations, and have created a mailing campaign.

Mr. Bagdasarian said it is important to note and to relay to the community that this is not something “institutional” in terms of the housing, but instead a neighborhood of quality townhomes.

Solon Community Living, a $3 million project, is proposed to include 10-12 high-quality, two-bedroom units with a minimum of one trained staff onsite 24 hours a day seven days a week. The project will be in the area of the Solon Community Center, the Solon Library and Community Park, among other amenities, allowing the residents easy access to them.

Currently, there is no zoning for 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, as group homes isolate individuals with disabilities, thus limiting their access to the community. There are no age restrictions of those who would live in the community.

The Bagdasarians plan to enter into an agreement with Welcome House, which has more than 40 years of experience working with individuals with disabilities and are an experienced provider for Professional Property Management and Service Coordination.

“Our initial hope was to have sites that were in proximity to the Solon Rec Center,” Mr. Bagdasarian said. He looked at such complexes as Carrington Court on Aurora Road and realized that the area nearby is “really an opportunity to create accessible housing.”

He said traditional housing would have its challenges for those with special needs, he continued, including the need for transportation and caregivers.

“Solon has always had incredible amenities, and this is really the same goal as Carrington (Court),” Mr. Bagdasarian said, “to locate nearby shopping, the Community Center, parks and walking trails.” These are all the same amenities a senior citizens community would need and in this case is for those with disabilities.

“We wanted to do more than just a group home for our kids,” Mr. Bagdasarian said of Alex, 26, and Julie, 28, both whom have fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder. “We thought having a neighborhood would be the quality of life we would aim for.”

That would have the benefit of more people and more families, he said.

Mr. Bagdasarian said they have the funds to purchase the land and will complete the project’s overall funding with other families’ contributions as well as pursuing grant options.

At this point, the focus has been on getting the zoning approved and pursuing and securing families whose children would benefit from the project.

“We are getting even better support (than I had thought),” Mr. Bagdasarian said. “The more people we talk to, people connected with school system, they are saying ‘we will help and [are] happy to spread to the word,’ and people are asking for yard signs.

“It’s gratifying to see the support and feedback from people,” he said, adding that they knew this entire concept would take time.

“Getting the zoning and then securing the site is paramount to the vision happening, so we are excited for that part of it,” he said.

Mr. Bagdasarian said special needs zoning meets a need in the community, noting that Solon is home to more than 500 residents who have special needs.

“This new zoning is designed to give the Solon residents with disabilities access to amenities in a safe and sustainable neighborhood,” he said.

It is a high quality neighborhood in a “key location,” he continued.

“It’s 10-to-12 attractive one story townhomes,” Mr. Bagdasarian said. “This is not housing that will detract from the neighborhood.

“By voting for it, it will help improve quality of life for people in Solon who have disabilities,” he said. “It allows individuals to work, socialize and thrive in Solon, and finally it builds on Solon’s great reputation for serving diverse needs and being a leader.”

Mayor Edward H. Kraus said this type of zoning “says who we are as a community.

“It speaks to who we are, what our values are and what our mission is as a city,” he said. While new buildings and developments are nice, “it all comes down to how we treat those most in need and those who need sort of a leg up so to speak.

“That is our greatest legacy to the community,” Mayor Kraus continued. Passing this type of zoning can be an example for all of Northeast Ohio, he added.

Mayor Kraus said that, years ago, people with disabilities were sort of shunned and no one talked about it. No one wanted to live next door to a group home or people with disabilities and it is important to take that stigma away – and completely remove it.

“We are all created by God,” Mayor Kraus said. “Do some people have different challenges? Yes, but it’s up to us to make sure everyone is taken care of.

“That is something we can all be proud of as a community.”

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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