CANTON – The developer who proposed affordable senior housing in the 2600 block of Harvard Avenue NW might not receive a zone change needed to build.
The Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended City Council deny the change from community service to planned multi-family residential zoning, which would permit the development of Ivy Senior Lofts on 2.97 acres north of the Kingdom Center.
“It’s the opinion of the Law Department that to grant the zone change amounts to illegal spot zoning,” Assistant Law Director Phil Schandel said. “When I say illegal, I don’t mean it’s a crime, but it would be contrary to law, resulting in voiding of the ordinance upon a successful lawsuit by a citizen taxpayer.”
The surrounding property is zoned for community service, which permits uses such as schools, churches and nursing homes. Schandel said the development isn’t expected to generate significant tax revenue and has been opposed by area residents, and therefore would not benefit the entire community.
MVAH Partners, which has a Cincinnati office, has an option to buy the property from Nickleplate Realty Trust and presented a plan to develop senior housing at a community meeting in December. It consists of 100 total units and two construction phases, each estimated to cost $13 million with $10 million anticipated in tax credits from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.
Residents would need to be at least 55 years old and earn no more than 80% of the area’s median income — $44,000 a year for a family of two.
Pete Schwiegeraht, Midwest senior vice president of development for MVAH Partners, said this location seems ideal. It previously underwent a zone change for proposed senior housing, would blend in with Malone University’s three-story buildings and meets criteria to make it likely to receive tax credits.
Schwiegeraht said he submitted the rezoning request in October and attended community meetings to share details about the proposed development. MVAH Partners agreed to three- rather than four-story buildings and construction hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., among other conditions, to appease nearby residents.
“Had four other rezonings in four other cities all done by the end of January,” Schwiegeraht said. “I’m not saying that’s anybody’s fault. Staff did a great job. Point being is stalls are just as good as delays, and this spot zoning to me is egregious.”
Why was the prior rezoning approved?
The Planning Commission previously recommended the zone change on conditions later determined to violate fair housing laws — such as prohibiting low-income residents who use the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8). The recommendation did not go before City Council and was reconsidered Tuesday.
“I’m curious about why the Law Department came to this conclusion in the matter of the last two or three weeks, as compared to seeing the situation a couple of months ago and advising us along those lines,” commission member David Kaminski asked.
Schandel said researching the legality of those conditions led the department to determine a zone change would be spot zoning.
Law Director Kristen Bates Aylward also apologized to the Planning Commission for having “missed” the spot zoning and said the request was reviewed quickly to allow the developer to apply for tax credits.
“I let the department be rushed,” she said.
Residents respond to proposed Ivy Senior Lofts in Canton
Several residents and representatives of the nearby House of Loreto shared concerns about safety, traffic, flooding and the loss of green space. Among them were City Prosecutor Jason Reese and City Treasurer Kim Perez.
Reese said he and other residents spoke to an Akron attorney and would file a lawsuit if the city approves the zone change.
“This is not what we want in our neighborhood,” he said.
Perez said high-rises with a mix of residents are “not the best environment for seniors” and taxpayers would fund emergency calls to the complex since residents likely would not have taxable income.
“All we get is housing and things that other people don’t want, and you guys want to put it between the two best neighborhoods in the city of Canton,” he said. “Market Heights and Ridgewood, you got people that take care of their neighborhoods.”
Schwiegeraht said he was “disappointed” residents did not consider senior housing to be worthwhile there. He also noted that emergency services already serve the same seniors throughout the community who would live at the complex, which would have on-site management.
With member Alexander Haas absent and member Audrey Lavin abstaining, seven Planning Commission members voted against the zone change. Joel Harris was the only member to vote in favor of it. He said converting an “unused and overgrown lot” into housing for Canton’s aging population would be beneficial enough to justify spot zoning.
The rezoning recommendation will receive three readings and a public hearing at upcoming City Council meetings.
Jonathan Lalewicz, president of the Market Heights Neighborhood Association, said he and other residents opposed to the complex will attend the meetings. He sees it as a “clear case” of spot zoning to benefit the developer and landowner.
“It was good to see neighbors involved in the goings-on in the city and speaking up when they want to be heard,” he said. Seemed to work tonight.”
After the meeting, Schwiegeraht said he would make his case to City Council because a zone change denial would leave the project “dead.”