Our Towns

Howland Township Copes with Growing Pains

HOWLAND TOWNSHIP, Ohio – A drive along state Route 46 in Howland Township provides a mirror for the Trumbull County bedroom community and the challenges it faces.

Long lines flow through the dual drive-thru lanes at the newly opened Chick-fil-A restaurant on the east side of the road. It’s just the most recent of the commercial developments that fill the spaces vacated by the thinning housing stock along the corridor.

Nor far to the south, also on the east side of Route 46, a new Gander Mountain is being built at the Eastwood Mall Complex, about a fifth of which is now in the township. That figure could grow with the Cafaro Co.’s recent acquisition of 80 acres by extending the complex from Eastwood Field to behind Sam’s Club to the north.

Today township leaders find themselves in the position of having to manage what sometimes are competing priorities for the community, even as it copes with a decreasing revenue base.

“It’s a place where people want to live and work, so quality of life issues are important as well,” says Darlene St. George, township administrator.

Like many communities throughout Ohio, Howland is “trying to figure out a new way to operate,” she says. This year’s budget is $2.4 million less than it was in 2011.

“The message from Columbus is that they no longer want money to go to Columbus and then funnel back to the townships, so they’ve eliminated things like the estate tax,” she says. “They’ve eliminated tangible personal property tax. They’re eliminating local government funds.”

Road maintenance presents the greatest problem, she says, “because that’s where we’re getting short on money.” This November, township voters will see a 1.5-mill levy intended to address the issue.

As Howland officials try to make do with less money, the township faces increasing demands from its growing commercial sector.

Gander Mountain is building its new store where its old store and a former Circuit City store sat. Another national restaurant chain has inquired about building on the north corner opposite Chick-fil-A, and a new Dollar General opened in the township as well, St. George notes. She also recently met with a developer interested in building 160 units for the aging-in-place population, she adds.

“Each new development sometimes encourages further development,” she observes.

Other than financial issues related to the “reduced income stream at the state level,” Howland is “doing just fine,” says Rick Clark, chairman of the township board of trustees. He has served on the board for 21 years.

“We have a lot of development going on right now. Obviously businesses want to locate in Howland,” Clark says. Some of that is based on the proximity to the Eastwood Mall but there is activity further north on Route 46 and along North River Road, as well as in the Golden Triangle area. “Those areas are developing because it’s Howland Township and it’s a nice place to do business,” he says.

“Our permitting activity is great,” St. George adds. In 2014, the value of all permits – commercial, residential, industrial and others – was nearly $7.8 million. With three months left in 2015, it will reach $10.9 million with the issuance of the permit for the new Gander Mountain under construction.

Tenants at Howland Commons, a retail center developed beginning in 1994, include the Super Kmart store, Kohl’s department store, Home Depot and Fairfield Inn.

“Howland is a growing community,” says Joe Bell, spokesman for the Cafaro Co. in Youngstown, which owns the mall complex. About 57 acres of the mall complex lie in Howland, and the Cafaro Co. is poised to expand its footprint yet again with the recent acquisition of 80 acres. “We have a pretty clear vision of what we’d like to put there,” Bell says.

Cafaro envisions a mixed-use development that includes a combination of multifamily residential properties, an office park and “a sprinkling of retail,” he elaborates. The company is in “preliminary discussions” with the township regarding its plans, and he acknowledges executives might have to “at least explore the possibility” of a neighboring political subdivision annexing some of Howland for infrastructure purposes.

The township has faced a “difficult task” of maintaining its reputation as a bedroom community while simultaneously embracing business and development, says Randy Baker, principal at Baker Bednar Snyder & Associates.

“It’s a tough thing to make happen and keep all people happy, and I think Howland [officials] will continue to have their challenges in terms of people wanting to develop while others want to keep it more residential,” Baker says. “Howland leadership has done a good job of balancing those things but they’ll have their challenges.”

Sales of houses in the township are returning to the highs of 2006, reports Yvonne Smith, a broker and owner of Real Living Brokers Realty Group and president of the Warren Area Board of Realtors. In September 2006, 29 units were sold at an average price of $134,531. Last month, 28 houses were sold, at an average price of $121,035.

“We’ve been selling a lot more high-end homes,” Smith says. “We also have some new construction, which helps keep our buyer base up.”

“Howland is fairly well built out residentially. There aren’t a tremendous amount of properties available for that development,” notes Carter Lewis, CEO of Lewis Construction.

“State Route 46 has become more and more commercial over the last 15 years,” he continues. “Even that was primarily residential before the advent of Lowe’s and Home Depot and before the Eastwood Mall changed the landscape dramatically.”

Howland has linear commercial corridors and intact neighborhoods just outside those corridors “so the planning challenge is how do you promote growth along those commercial corridors while protecting the residential neighborhoods just outside of these commercial corridors,” says planning director Kimberly Mascarella.

“We look to our comprehensive plan [updated in 2011] for guidance in making these hard decisions and we look to our zoning resolution to see how we can update these to make sure that the buffering requirements are adequate to protect our residents,” she continues.

The plan represents the “collective vision” of the township residents, she says.

“I’m looking at it every day for guidance and to administer the zoning in a positive way,” Mascarella says. “It helps us to prioritize public infrastructure improvements and the institution of new programs.”

Adds township administrator St. George, “The comprehensive plan is not a document that was formed and sits on a shelf. It’s a working, breathing document that we use daily. You see it in the development of the township. You see it in policymaking. You see it in the goals that we set out.”

One goal was to focus more on the Golden Triangle, where some 30 businesses and 3,000 industrial jobs are but is “sitting on 20th century infrastructure supporting 21st century needs,” she says.

Some individuals believe the township regulations that govern development are too stringent, such as those enacted following flooding in 2003, Clark says. Under those rules, new developments are required to manage their storm water.

“Developers don’t necessarily like that, but it benefits everyone,” he says. When developers see the finished product, they usually appreciate the township’s strictness, he says.

“Certainly Howland has some challenging regulations,” Bell acknowledges. “It’ll be especially important to work cooperatively with the township on developing the vacant land if it’s possible.”

Pictured: Howland Township administrator Darlene St. George and Rick Clark, chairman of the township’s board of trustees.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.