NORTH ROYALTON — Voters citywide will decide May 8 whether or not to rezone the 26.7-acre property on Sprague Road between Ridge and State roads from residential to a senior citizen district, a change that would pave the way for a senior living community.
City Council voted during its Jan. 16 meeting to move the measure to a vote of the people, but not before the project’s proposed emergency access drive came in question again.
During a Planning Commission meeting earlier this month, a few residents in proximity of the project raised questions, concerned primarily about the emergency access drive proposed off Ridgedale Drive and also the impact the project will have on property values and traffic in the area.
Planning ultimately recommended the rezoning be placed on the ballot.
Though the first step is rezoning, the project’s developer OMNI Senior Living did present conceptual plans at both planning and the recent council meeting to provide a sense of the project — which is planned to break ground in July and take 14 months to construct.
It features a three-story independent living apartment with roughly 80 units; 46 cluster-style villas for independent living; a two-story, 40-unit assisted living building; and a one-story facility for memory care. Its sole entrance and exit would lie off Sprague Road.
Developers say this is warranted with 3,843 residents aged 70 or older residing in North Royalton, a population expected to only grow as baby boomers come of age.
Should voters OK the rezoning in May, the project and its site plans must be extensively reviewed and approved by Planning Commission and City Council before it can proceed.
The sole resident who spoke during the council meeting, a Ridgedale property owner, shared concerns about the emergency access drive believing Ridgedale to be inadequate to handle first responder equipment.
“It is a subpar road. To have this as a backup for a scenario where there’s a lot of elderly people living, it kind of doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” she said.
After back and forth exchanges, Mayor Bob Stefanik reiterated that the access drive is simply a safety measure only to be used, if ever, in the rare event Sprague were to be inaccessible but emergency units were needed.
“Ridgedale is not going to have an entrance or an exit for this facility for everyday traffic. We’re getting into what ifs and maybes. We are not going to let everyday traffic come in there. When there is an ambulance call, they will come in Sprague Road,” Stefanik said. “It’s going to be for extreme emergencies that have never happened in 40 years.”
Fire Chief Bob Chegan agreed.
“We have three in the city that we have very rarely have ever used so again this, like the mayor said, would be if something disastrous were happening on Sprague Road,” he said, of the drive.
Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell supports the rezoning and the project, agreeing additional senior living options are necessary, but said the access drive is not needed.
“The city says that it may never be used, and other such roads have not been used in decades. Then why are we requiring it?” he said, after the meeting. “The residents lit up my phone and email and came out in full force to the Planning Commission meeting to let it be known they do not want it. That doesn’t happen often.”
Several city officials said future meetings will be necessary to review site plans and that is when it will be appropriate to go into deep analysis of the drive. Questioning it now, they said, puts the cart before the horse as rezoning is the first hurdle.
“That’s not the issue right now,” Council President Larry Antoskiewicz said of the access drive.
“An access road is not what we were there to discuss at this time and was, quite frankly, out of order and irrelevant. That is a planning issue to be decided by the Planning Commission,” said Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris after the meeting. “The Building Codes Committee and City Council, we’re not the appropriate board to hear discussion on an access road at this time.”
If and when the rezoning passes, OMNI will have to come before Planning Commission and City Council again, Stefanik said, to present their plan.
“And all the residents will have ample opportunity to say whether or not they like the road there … ,” he stressed.
Most say they are in support of this project.
“It’s time for North Royalton to decide, ‘do we think this is a right fit for our community?’” Ward 4 Councilman Paul Marnecheck said. “I think this could be a good opportunity to give current residents another living situation option so that they can stay in North Royalton.”
”If approved, OMNI would be making a significant investment in our community of over $25 million dollars, which would create new jobs, better housing options for our seniors and an improvement to that overall part of the city,” Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw added.