By the November ballot, Solon voters may see a mixed-use zoning issue associated with the former Liberty Ford site on Aurora Road.
Mayor Edward H. Kraus said the administration’s initial goal is to have a draft of the proposed zoning in time for the April 23 meeting of the Planning Commission to start the review process before it goes to City Council.
A Mixed Planning District or MPD zoning classification, recently developed as a first for the city, is intended to provide Solon with a tool to permit comprehensively planned developments that incorporate diverse mixtures of office, commercial and residential uses. It follows the master plan recommendation that it would apply to the central retail district only, which are the areas generally along SOM Center and Aurora roads.
When the language is applied to a specific property, then it would have to go up for a vote of the people. City Planning Director Robert S. Frankland is drafting something that would fall under the MPD zoning for the area of the Liberty Ford site, the mayor said.
Mayor Kraus said that, although still in the “working stages,” an appropriate mix of uses for the site would involve possibly some high-end apartments, potentially a hotel and some retail.
“We are trying to figure out from a planning perspective what the community would want and what the right mix is,” Mayor Kraus said. The current zoning for the site, C4, which is automotive and commercial, is not appropriate zoning, he said.
“We don’t believe that is the appropriate use of the land moving into the future,” Mayor Kraus said.
Liberty Ford rolled out of Solon last May moving to a newly built $12.7 million dealership in the City of Aurora. The dealership owner announced in 2016 that he would be leaving Solon after an impasse in negotiations with former Mayor Susan A. Drucker’s administration to expand the site.
“We need to be on the same page and come to an agreement,” Mayor Kraus said of the city and the Liberty Ford ownership. “We want to start to get this moving to be able to get it on the ballot in November.”
To meet the deadlines set forth by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, all city approvals, including public hearings, must be complete by August.
“Whatever we do on the site, the hotel will be included,” Mayor Kraus noted of the Solon Motel, on the corner of Aurora and Solon roads that now is for sale. “You can’t do it without the hotel.
“Eventually if it is the city or the developer” the hotel would be purchased and taken over Mayor Kraus said. It had at one time been listed for about $1 million.
Mayor Kraus said he met with the motel owner, “not to negotiate a deal, but just to talk about the future.
“As a courtesy, I wanted to let him know what we are looking to do,” Mayor Kraus said.
Michael Herrick, son of Liberty Ford founder Jim Herrick, said last week that a few developers have shown interest in the 5.7-acre parcel, but all interest has been for residential or mixed use development.
“I think everyone is waiting to see what the city’s plan for the area is,” Mr. Herrick said. “We are in no hurry to sell.”
The price of the parcel has been lowered from $3 million to $2.5 million now that the collision center has moved out, Mr. Herrick said.
“I’d rather have the right answer that is both good for us and good for the city and the residents,” Mr. Herrick said. “I’d like to leave behind something we can all be proud of.”
The dealership had been in Solon for about 19 years, but the location has been a car dealership since the 1950s. The Liberty Ford in Solon represented the most landlocked of the dealership’s six franchises in Northeast Ohio.
Mr. Herrick said he supports Mayor Kraus’ vision for the development of the area, “which obviously our parcel will be part of.
“I think it’s a great way to create jobs and create new, higher-end housing for younger people who may already work in the city but choose to live elsewhere because of limited options other than traditional single-family homes in Solon,” Mr. Herrick said.
Mr. Herrick said he sees his role in this whole process as being patient and only selling to someone who has the same vision for the site as the community and the administration.