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Residents fight development planned near Ohio golf course

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NORTON, Ohio — From his front yard, Mark Ferris can see the rolling greens of the Barberton Brookside Country Club golf course and hear the groans of unlucky duffers.

It’s where, back in 2016, he sank his first hole-in-one.

That view will change dramatically in coming years as the golf course transforms from a tranquil oasis to a bustling neighborhood packed with families, pets and SUVs.

If City Council approves a site plan pn Monday, a $98.9 million housing development will inch closer to reality on the 140-acre site across the street from Ferris’ home.

The prospect disturbs him and a group of neighbors — not just for the loss of green space or the arrival of new neighbors, but for the type of development planned for the golf course.

The site plan before council details a Phase I that includes 308 single-family homes. To accomplish that, developers will need to build five homes per acre. When the first phase is complete, Ferris fears, traffic will become heavy on Shellhart and side streets, creating headaches and safety concerns.

City Administrator Robert Fowler said the development would give the city’s stagnant financial outlook a boost and provide high-demand homes for middle-class families.

And as families grow, said Councilman Dan Karant, children would enter the city’s schools, bringing in revenue and relieving pressure to lure students from outside the district.

Ferris and other residents who discussed the project on Wednesday don’t oppose the idea of young families moving into the city. It’s the density of the project they object to. That, and the perception that the city isn’t giving them the information they need to stay informed.

Phil Canfora, another Shellhart Road resident, said one of the reasons he purchased his property was for his grandchildren. If traffic increases too much, it will be less safe for them when they play outside.

“Shellhart Road, at the time, there was almost nothing there,” Canfora said. “Now, you are going to run all this traffic past my house. You brought all this traffic and you did not improve the infrastructure.”

Ferris, Canfora and William Price Jr. said the amount of increased traffic is a major concern about the development that hasn’t been adequately addressed by the city. Repeated attempts to get those answers haven’t yielded much information, they say.

But Fowler and Karant, who represents residents in Ward 3, said they’ve been open about the process and provided answers to what they know.

Both men said developers aren’t eager to fund a required traffic study before they have a good idea if they can move forward. A study can cost thousands of dollars that couldn’t be recouped if a project falls through.

Karant said Ferris and other residents want answers he doesn’t have — at least, not yet.

A flyer distributed to residents in the area states that traffic will increase to more than 1,000 vehicles per day on Shellhart Road.

“Shellhart and the other roads will become the “driveway” for this allotment of 690 unitsall the way to Cleveland Massillon!” the flyer states. If a second phase of the development goes forward, it would include townhouses, boosting the number of residences.

The flyer calls on residents to voice their opinion through letters, emails and phone calls and draws attention to a “Residents for Norton” Facebook page where information exists about contributing funds for legal action.

Ferris is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the city and Brookside’s owners. The complaint seeks to put a stop to the project until the questions he and others seek are answered.

But Karant said he has answered his constituents to the best of his ability and doesn’t want to speculate on issues like the traffic study.

“If I take a guess at it and I’m wrong, [some] are going to call me a liar,” he said.

Karant said he and other council members are listening to constituents and working with the developer to address their concerns. The developer, he said, has already made concessions.

“We’re doing our best to respond to the complaints and fears and accusations and make it better,” he said Friday.

It’s not only the traffic that worries Ferris and others.

He and the other men said they believe the preliminary site plan is out of character with the existing neighborhood and would reduce their property values.

“I don’t oppose development,” said Canfora. “Ryan Homes is fine, but the density of the project is off the scale. This property is the jewel property of the city of Norton.”

On the corner of Ferris’ property, track marks show where a truck had set up to drill in preparation for a water line. Ferris said he wasn’t notified before the action was taken.

“It’s a fact that we’re not being answered,” Ferris said.

Ferris and several other property owners filed their complaint Nov. 23 in Summit County Common Pleas Court. In it, they allege the project was “ramrodded” through City Council and rezoned without proper notification of the public.

Fowler said the city went the extra mile with council on the change to mixed-use zoning.

“It was read,” he said. “Before the zoning change, it was read seven times.”

Fowler said that on such a large project, details can change before the final version is voted on by council. The city is doing what it can to keep the public informed as the process goes forward.

“This is one of the issues I struggle with,” said Fowler. “This one is probably the most open in terms of transparency. We have nothing to hide. It’s on our website. [It’s] all there.”

Karant said the traffic study, if the project moves forward, will answer questions about the number of vehicles that can be expected. Then the issue can be addressed.

But he said the development will take place over several years and changes will be gradual.

“It will be a slow process,” he said. “It is not like it is going to be 300 families immediately.”

The councilman said online meetings have fueled the feeling of a disconnect between council and the city’s residents.

“Zoom meetings have frustrated the public,” he said. “They feel like nobody is listening.”

Karant said he’s eager for the day when the public can attend meetings in person.

Price said he fears the decisions council makes will wind up costing him and his neighbors.

“You are going to have another assessment because the roads are going to be shot,” he said.

Ferris said he’s resigned that there will be some development, but believes what has been proposed is far from what’s right for the neighborhood.

“I would want them to do what I want, which is reasonable development,” he said.

To Canfora, only a scaled-back plan would be acceptable.

“Decrease the density by 50 percent and that makes it half-acre lots,” he said. “Barberton lots are half-acre lots.”

Brookside’s fate is far from uncommon, according to a realtor.com article from Sept. 2018. In 2017, 200 golf courses closed in the U.S., with only 15 opening. The land provides opportunities for developers in urban areas and high-demand suburban markets.

“In a market where developable lots are scarce, a large footprint like a golf course presents a major development opportunity,” Robert Dietz, chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders, told the website.

In Norton, Ferris, Canfora and Price, along with other neighbors, plan to make their concerns known to council on Monday.

And in the meantime, the complaint will move forward. Ferris said he expects a ruling on Jan. 22.

original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2020/12/13/residents-fight-development-planned-near-ohio-golf-course/

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