Economic Development

Lordstown Residents ‘Disheartened’ at Opposition to TJX

LORDSTOWN, Ohio – George Vasko, a resident of the village of Lordstown for 22 years, says he’ll probably lose his job along with 1,500 others when General Motors Co.’s Lordstown Complex sheds its second shift in June.

With this sort of pressure facing the community, he said he’s even more frustrated as to why a small number of residents here have effectively squashed a $160 million project that would bring 1,000 new jobs to the village, and at least blunt some of the impact from GM’s latest downsizing.

“They’ve made a foolish mistake,” Vasko said of those opposed to TJX Companies Inc.’s now-shelved plans to build a new HomeGoods distribution center along Ellsworth Bailey Road near the GM plant. “Look at what we’ve lost – steel mills, auto plants – it’s what America has lost. In these cases, you better take what you can get.”

TJX March announced in March that it intended to construct a 1.2 million square-foot distribution center on 290 acres at Ellsworth Bailey Road and Hallock Young Road, across from and just south of the GM Lordstown Complex.

This is where the TJX wanted to build its Homegoods distribution center in Lordstown.

On Friday, the company informed the Village that it was withdrawing its application to rezone the land to industrial, and is instead “reconsidering its options,” thereby ending its

HomeGoods spokeswoman Erika Tower said in a statement that the company was withdrawing its request because of concerns that neighboring residents still harbored about the project.

“At HomeGoods, having a strong relationship with our communities is important to us and a core part of who we are and how we do business,” she said.

The land is directly across from the Imperial Communities mobile home development, and abuts residential land along Hallock Young Road. Some of these residents here led vocal opposition to the project site, claiming they would like to see the center built somewhere else in the village that is already is zoned industrial.

In an email Friday, Lordstown resident Kathy Dickson, one of the leaders of the opposition, said she is pleased that the company is scouting other locations and hoped it would still consider Lordstown. “We welcome TJX in the village on the right property as they would be a great benefit to the village as the village would be to them,” she said.

Those who opposed the project say they think it’s unfair that they’ve been singled out and blamed for the company’s change of heart.

“We weren’t against the project,” remarked Svetlana DeCesare, who lives along Hallock Young Road just west of the planned HomeGoods site. “We just want them to put it somewhere else.”

The HomeGoods site is clearly visible from DeCesare’s house, and she especially enjoys how peaceful and quiet the neighborhood is. The houses here sit back far enough from the road and highway to mute much of the traffic on Ellsworth Bailey Road and Interstate 80.

“There have been a lot of harsh remarks made about how stupid we are,” DeCesare said. “But would you want to live next to a warehouse?”

Professionals in the neighborhood opposed the project, DeCesare noted, while she and her husband mulled the idea of selling their house and relocating should the distribution center be built.

“We need businesses here,” DeCesare said. “But it’s not fair when we have to deal with trucks, blacktop,and lights right next to us.”

DeCesare raises chickens and sells fresh organic eggs from her house, and emphasizes that Lordstown has plenty of land appropriately zoned to accommodate the TJX project. “This is our investment,” she said. “These are nice homes and they’re worth fighting for.”

Still, Vasko and many others are angry over why these residents have complained about the project when there is so much at stake in the community.

“It’s very disheartening,” he said. “It hurts the whole area.”

Vasko is among the fortunate GM workers with enough seniority to retire and is eligible for a $60,000 buyout. Others, he noted, aren’t as lucky, and face uncertainty as the economic sands continue to shift across the Mahoning Valley. That makes the TJX  jobs more important than ever, he says.

In the wake of GM’s announcement of shedding the second shift — the third shift ended last  year — the community has to understand the implications of losing more of the tax base, Vasko said. Lordstown, he noted, has well-preserved roads and its safety forces are funded because of the tax base built by companies such as GM.

“If you live in this town and love it, and you don’t allow a project like this to happen, then you’re going to lose that base,” Vasko said.

Timothy Wilks, an independent truck driver, said that truck traffic today is a small fraction of what it was 30 years ago when GM Lordstown employed upward of 12,000 people. Once the layoffs take effect, only 1,500 will still be working there.

“These people already live in an industrial area,” he said, emphasizing that the Lordstown plant is one of the largest of its kind in the country. “Bailey Road is a four-lane road. It was built for trucks.”

Wilks said it “boggles the mind” how these residents can argue that truck traffic is an issue when there were few complaints about truck activity when the GM plant employed more than 10,000. “When you live in an industrial area, this is going to happen,” he said.

Moreover, this resistance sends the wrong message to other major companies that could potentially consider the Mahoning Valley or Lordstown as a site for an expansion or new location, Wilks said.

“Businesses will say, ‘Why bother trying? They don’t want us anyway,’” Wilks noted. “Where’s it going to end?”

Ultimately, the prospect of jobs should override people’s concerns over the project site, said Deborah Hazlett, who has lived in the Imperial Communities development for almost 18 years. While many of the residents and neighbors in the mobile home park opposed the project where it was located, she supported the effort.

“This is an old town, with older people who don’t want change,” Hazlett lamented. “I don’t know how much longer GM will be around. We need jobs.”

In some cases, those who initially had reservations about the HomeGoods center turned in favor of the development.

“We weren’t too happy about the way it was handled at first,” said Joe Click, who lives on Hallock Young Road and whose property is just a few hundred feet from what would have been project site’s western boundary line. “There was zero communication.”

He said that TJX was considering purchasing neighbor’s land next door nearly a full year before TJX rolled out its plans, but never bothered to contact any neighbors that might be affected. “They were buying right up to my property line,” he said.

However, once Click and his wife met with company officials, they became convinced that TJX would do everything it could to mitigate noise and landscape a significant buffer between the distribution hub and the neighborhood.

“They planned to put a cul-de-sac on the grounds and install a nice park between us and the development,” he said. “We have kids, so we were OK with that.”

Click said that he’s made an investment in Lordstown — he purchased his house about five years ago — and understands that chasing away new business isn’t the most effective way of building up the community.

“I don’t think it would’ve hurt our property values,” he said. “This would have been good for the school system.”

The Lordstown resident noted that the community could have responded in a much more professional and respectable fashion than it did once the company unveiled it’s plans.

Moreover, he doubts that there would be enough support to overturn a zoning change through a referendum that would be placed on the ballot in November, which those opposed to the site said they would pursue.

Still, he thinks that had TJX approached neighbors earlier, the process could have played out and the project would now be underway.

“They could’ve been breaking ground by now,” Click said. “No one wanted this out of Lordstown. They just didn’t want it there. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.