Geauga County Planning Commission unanimously recommended to deny a proposed zoning amendment to allow congregate care in Chester Township at their meeting Tuesday, June 14, citing the amendment’s discordance with the township plan and the will of residents as well as its power to fundamentally change the fabric of the township. 

Biltmore LLC, a Phoenix, AZ-based nursing home corporation, is looking to build a 96-bed residential nursing home without rehabilitation or memory care on Caves Road. The township does not allow for use variances, so the company is requesting a zoning change to allow congregate care in the commercial area. 

The change could affect all property in the entire township by creating the possibility for congregate care facilities to appear in areas other than the proposed facility. There are currently two areas in the general commercial district that meet that requirement and they are both owned by the applicant. Still, there would always be a chance someone could cobble together residential lots to meet the acreage requirement and rezone it to open a congregate care facility. 

In the middle of a discussion about the amendment’s language, planning commission member Walter “Skip” Claypool moved to deny the application, stating that the amendment was vague, ill-formed, and did not fit with the existing township plan. 

“The township plan is clear. Congregate care has been excluded intentionally,” said Mr. Claypool, who has lived in Chesterland for 20 years. “And now we’re going to make a recommendation for something from an organization outside of our township who wants to change the nature of our township and, by the way, our county. So we have outsiders attempting to make changes to our county and we have a right as a planning commission to say no.”

He was met with a round of applause from a room packed with concerned residents from different Geauga County townships, mainly Chester. 

Since moving to Chester 20 years ago, Mr. Claypool said he remembers the response has been clear on multiple occasions when the community was asked their opinion on bringing different types of housing to the township. 

“The response has always been a violent ‘no,’” Mr. Claypool said, citing a recent community questionnaire in which respondents polled overwhelmingly in favor of preserving open and green space in Chester and against expanding the choice of housing types in Chester. “The fundamental question here is not how the language is put together, the question is, do we want to change the fabric of Chesterland? Do the citizens of the community want that? They’ve said loudly and clearly ‘no.’”

Chairman Caterina Cocca-Fulton also took issue with the language of the proposed amendment.

“That kind of language is very scary because it opens the door to anyone’s interpretation and doesn’t have a good place in the proposal,” Ms. Cocca-Fulton said.

The planning commission could have voted to recommend to approve the amendment, approve it with modifications, or deny it.

Per Ohio Revised Code, the planning commission’s recommendation will be sent to the Chester Township Zoning Commission to then be considered and voted on at a public hearing on July 6 at West Geauga Middle School cafeteria. 

Both boards’ recommendations will then be sent to the Chester Township Trustees, who will then vote to adopt or deny the recommendation or adopt some modification thereof. 

The amendment, if adopted, shall become effective in 30 days after the date of adoption unless residents start a referendum petition that gets enough signatures and present the trustees with it within that 30-day period. 

Residents started a petition weeks ago that has already gained hundreds of signatures, although it is unknown if that petition would be valid later on based on how far in advance it was started.

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