Economic Development

Austintown Officials React to Press Frenzy Over Project

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AUSTINTOWN TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Township officials stressed they have nothing official to say regarding a proposed development project but that the media scrutiny has created “a bit of hysteria.”

News outlets this week have pursued information regarding the proposed $125 million project (at first reported at $100 million), which an email identified at state Route 46 and Silica Road, across from Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course (READ OUR STORY). The proposal includes building two hotels, retail establishments, restaurants and one-, two- and three-bedroom condominiums.

“We have always tried to cooperate with the local media but it’s created a bit of hysteria because our phone is ringing off the hook,” Darren Crivelli, township zoning inspector, said at a press conference Wednesday morning.

“We do take pride in Austintown in communicating with the media but sometimes there is no story, or the story is going to cause more problems than it may be worth at this time,” he said.

Amid this week’s coverage, Crivelli, joined by trustees Jim Davis, who was interviewed by news organizations about the situation the day before the press conference, and Rick Stauffer, met with reporters at Township Hall to address the project, which they emphasized its in its early stages.

The township zoning official, who did most of the speaking, said he met Feb. 13 with the representative of a developer for what he characterized as a “general discussion of the overall zoning process for a commercial development.” He advised the developer, who asked to remain anonymous, that he would respect that request unless the company submitted public documents.

Subsequently, the township received an email from Ryan Fisher, vice president of Colliers International in Cleveland, which included an attached rendering of the site that detailed where the hospitality and retail establishments and residential properties would be built.

In the March 12 email, Fisher said he represented a “market-rate, senior-living developer out of Pittsburgh who has initial interest in the attached development.” He and his client would be in town the following Tuesday – March 17 – to tour and inquired about a meeting “to discuss our use and if there could be a fit here” or elsewhere in Austintown that complied with the zoning code, the email stated.

“We believe this project is at just the very early stage,” Crivelli remarked. “I meet with developers all the time to talk about projects. Some become reality. Some don’t.” He doesn’t believe the developer “understood the ramifications” of submitting the document.

At last week’s meeting, the developer’s representatives said they were interested in building an apartment complex. “We did talk about that property [on Route 46],” Crivelli said. “The first thing they told me when they showed us is that what you see is not representative of what we’re looking to do” because of the existing zoning, he said. They inquired about elsewhere in the township.

The zoning inspector said he suggested other undeveloped areas in Austintown zoned R-3, which would permit the kind of multi-unit residential development they sought. He informed them that if they still wanted that site, it would be subject to review.

Whatever property these developers chose – if, in fact, they do — they would need to submit documents including a scaled site plan, basic elevation drawings and floor plan, and a letter identifying and describing the project and its location. Within 15 days, the township would then issue a determination, he said.

“So the Colliers group has that option and they have that option on Route 46 or any other property within the township,” he said. Upon learning all that’s involved in seeking a zoning change, developers often have second thoughts, he remarked. They are less than eager to file the documents for public inspection or submit to a public hearing. Instead they look for another site already zoned to meet their needs.

“No permits have been issued for any project in that general area,” Crivelli stated. “No plans have been submitted and we have no knowledge of if and when plans would be submitted.”

The zoning office has issued “no written correspondence or zoning determination letter regarding any property in that general area,” Crivelli elaborated, and the township has no knowledge of the identity of the potential developer or developers and no knowledge of any architectural or engineering firms that might be involved.

“We’re in March Madness. We’re the referees and the developers are the basketball teams,” Crivelli said. “Once they’re ready to start the games, we’re the referees. We tell them what we need to do.”

Crivelli also stressed that no one has advised the township that the former Sears building, at 5760 Interstate Blvd, would be razed because of the project.

“No one’s ever even mentioned that,” he said. “I do know that I talked to a commercial broker a couple of weekends ago who was representing a prospective tenant for that building.”

Davis, who noted the presence of representatives of the building trades at the press conference, reported the township has received calls as well from real estate agents and construction companies. “I can tell you the importance of what this would mean for the community,” he said. “But once again, this is a plan. This is something in its very infant stages. … The ball is in the developer’s court.”

As a result of the extensive coverage, Crivelli said, the township has received media requests from an outlet in Chicago that covers the hospitality industry. There is an approved plan for a Hilton hotel in the area and “We’re waiting for that developer to call us and say, ‘Hey, we’re ready to get moving,’” he said.

“This whole process is very competitive,” he cautioned. “There are different stakeholder groups and people with different expectations.” Other business owners “may alter future plans based on something like this.”

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Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.