Economic Development

Boardman Zoning Denies Meijer Rezoning Request

BOARDMAN, Ohio — After more than 30 minutes of testimony from representatives of the Meijer grocery store project, the Boardman Zoning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday evening to deny a request to zone two additional parcels of land for the project.

Meijer Stores Ltd. sought to have the two parcels at 7104 and 7090 Lockwood Blvd. zoned commercial to build a gas station. The plot makes up nearly 2.5 acres. One of the parcels is zoned business, the other is zoned residential and has two houses on it; one is a rental and the other is occupied.

Speaking on behalf of Meijer at the public hearing were its real estate manager, Crisman Jones, and Brian Smallwood, project manager with Michigan-based Woolpert Inc., architect for the project. They updated commission members on the standing of the main store project and addressed the need for the zoning change.

In June, Meijer purchased about 38 acres of property in the township, nearly 16 of which zoned commercial, for the proposed store and looks to break ground in the middle of February, Jones said. Since closing on the property, Meijer has completed and submitted to Mahoning County its plans for civil and architectural design, “so we’re well under way in all of our predevelopment items and ready to start construction,” he said.

When the land was purchased, a deed restriction prevented building a gas station on the property, which was part of Meijer’s plan, he said. Meijer was unsuccessful in having the restriction released, forcing the company to consider other options for the gas station. Of the Michigan-based chain’s 245 stores, 214 have gas stations, he said.

“The gas station and the convenience store offers our customers the full array of our products,” he said. “If you have a Meijer credit card, you get 10 cents off a gallon of gas.”

The proposed gas station would include a 3,376-square-foot building and six double-sided dispensers under a canopy, Jones said. The project team completed a revised traffic study to account for the needs of the gas station.

For the entire project, there will be $1.525 million in roadway improvements completed, most of which are on Lockwood Boulevard, including adding an approved traffic signal at Tippecanoe Road, Jones said.

The signal will be part of the planned Ohio Department of Transportation resurfacing project, explained Woolpert’s Smallwood. All of the improvements on Boardman-Canfield Road, including a right turn coming out of the site, as well as the Lockwood improvements are included as part of the ODOT project, which is scheduled to begin in the spring, he said.

Even though it’s an ODOT project, “Meijer is fully funding the improvements that are contributory to Meijer,” Smallwood noted.

While Meijer had completed a preliminary traffic study for the main store project, Jones said, the new study hasn’t yet been submitted to ODOT, who asked Meijer to go through the zoning process before submitting, he explained. Thus, ODOT hasn’t seen the ingress and egress points for the gas station, Jones said, and he expects they will have input on them.

“Based on our current traffic impact study for this area, we’re proposing a full access movement adjacent from Indian Run,” Smallwood said. “And right now we are proposing a right-in/right-out on Lockwood Boulevard in the facility, as well as a right-in/right-out across from Starr Centre Drive.”

The current traffic impact study also indicates a need for the addition of a left turn lane on Tippecanoe Road, Smallwood noted. The details of the roadway improvements would be based on the final review by ODOT and the county, he said.

“We’re confident in our numbers and we’re confident that once we’re able to secure an official review from both the county and the state that they’re going to agree with our numbers,” he said.

During the testimony, commission members cited the requirement for buffers between the commercial development and residential properties.

“Should we be able to secure rezoning as part of the site plan approval process, we’d be working with staff to make sure that there’s additional buffering and what not between the adjacent residences,” Smallwood said.

One of the key factors in obtaining the additional property is having the ability to install additional buffers, Smallwood said. Buffering would include a combination of landscaping and fencing.

“It really depends upon what township requirements would be,” he said. “And we’d be working with staff to come up with that combination that satisfies everyone’s concerns or recommendations.”

Plans depicting the layout for the Meijer project.

For the parcels zoned residential that Meijer wants to rezone, Peter Lymber, who was elected zoning chairman at the meeting, was skeptical that Meijer intended to use the property as a buffer zone between the project and residential properties.

“I think you wanted to expand your gas station,” Lymber asserted. “I think you wanted to expand your facility, and you needed that second lot that’s residential and you want to make it commercial.”

Regarding proposed roadway improvements at the intersection of U.S. Route 224 and Lockwood Boulevard, Lymber argued they would compound traffic issues there. He also recalled previous meetings with Meijer when he had requested and been promised information on storm water retention and traffic flow, but he never received it.

“Every question I had was, ‘Well, we haven’t done that yet, but we’ll get back to you,’ ” Lymber said. “Now we’re led to believe we’re waiting on ODOT. It seems like it is backwards. I would like to have that information in my hand.”

Jones and Smallwood advised commission members that storm water management plans had been submitted to the township, and that all plans and studies are public record.

“I take a little bit of offense that we didn’t turn things in. They’re all turned in,” Jones said. “What you just mentioned is a public record.”

Jones also countered Lymber’s point about the traffic signal at the intersection of 224 and Lockwood, saying it would promote protected, safer left turns, he said.

The zoning department has a copy of the original traffic study and can get a copy of the storm water plan from the Mahoning County engineer’s office, confirmed Krista Beniston, director of zoning and development for the township.

The other parcel currently zoned for business has a gas well, which would stay, Jones and Smallwood said. The well is owned by Ohio Valley Energy, which holds a lease on the property. The project team has been working with Ohio Valley Energy to ensure the store sits “outside of the radius that they require for maintenance of the well head or pulling and capping of the well head should they ever choose to,” Smallwood said.

After Smallwood and Jones’ testimony, the lone dissenting opinion from residents was from Marilyn Kenner, road superintendent for the township. Kenner lives on Lockwood Boulevard. She argued that Tippecanoe should be the natural barrier between residents and commercial development.

She asserted that Meijer intended to have a driveway onto Lockwood directly across from Tippecanoe, “when we asked them not to have a driveway,” she said, which was the reason for the traffic studies.

She also cautioned the commission against rezoning the residential property commercial, “or you’re just going to continue the commercial creep all the way down Lockwood Boulevard,” she said.

“These people don’t live in Boardman. These people don’t even live in Ohio. They don’t care,” Kenner said. “We live in Boardman. We need to protect our neighborhood. We need to protect our residents.”

After the vote, Jones said he was disappointed, but that the team will regroup and consider the option of proceeding to the Board of Trustees to take up their case. However, the decision by the zoning commission will not affect the anticipated time of breaking ground on the main store project, he said.

Regarding Lymber’s comments on Meijer’s intentions to rezone the residential plot just to expand the gas station, Jones said the company’s intentions are “totally in good faith,” and there is no agenda.

“We did want more property to have a better plan,” with more green space, longer throats to the driveways and more buffers around the exterior perimeter of the property, he said. “That’s the only motivation to increase the size of our lot is to have a better plan. I think it’s unfortunate that he didn’t see it that way.”

Pictured above: Crisman Jones (at the podium), Meijer Stores real estate manager, and Brian Smallwood, project manager for store architect Woolpert Inc., provide testimony to Boardman Zoning Commission.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.