New VA Clinic Takes First Steps with Rezoning Recommendation

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The development of a new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic on Belmont Avenue took its first step Tuesday as the Board of Zoning Appeals and City Planning Commission approved a recommendation to rezone two adjacent lots to mixed use-community.

The parcels between Francisca and Catalina avenues, currently zoned as single-family residential, will be converted into parking space for the new clinic, said Michael Downing, owner of Michael Downing Realty Ltd., at the meeting.

“[Downing Realty] put together several lots between the streets of Catalina, Belmont and Francisca that includes the main lot with a couple of concrete pads and a building we intend to demo,” added Joe Myers of Joseph Myers Architects, which is designing the building. “We need to pick up a couple of additional lots to fit in the parking the VA would need.”

The recommendation will be passed onto Youngstown City Council, who will then open a 30-day comment period before voting on the change.

“There’d be parking for employees with fencing around the back that’s required by [the VA] and an ambulance canopy,” Myers continued. “That’s not so much for emergencies where they’d be blazing in with their sirens, but more for people who can’t make the trip on their own. It’s more for transport service than emergencies.”

On July 28, the VA announced it had selected the new site at 1815 Belmont Ave., just a few blocks south of the current clinic. There, Downing Realty will build a 35,344-square-foot outpatient clinic – about 10,000 square feet larger than the existing clinic – that the federal administration will lease for 20 years for $24.7 million.

The clinic will have space for primary care providers and teams of medical staff, including nurse care managers, clinical associates and administrative clerks.

“It’s a clinic on steroids, if you will. It’s your basic doctor’s offices,” Downing said. “The VA has recognized that they’re busting at the seams in Cleveland. The idea is to get these into the neighborhoods to alleviate the transportation to get there and the wait. There are two of these in Akron, Mansfield, Willoughby that I just built and then the surgery center in Cleveland, where we built three operating rooms. They want to increase their ability to do smaller procedures.”

The building will have room for a second tenant, Downing told the Board of Zoning Appeals.

“There’s a small space in the back that right now we’re talking with a complementary tenant. They’re a wheelchair and transportation company. They’d work well with the VA,” he said.

A rendering of the new VA Outpatient Clinic on Belmont Avenue.

To separate the building from the neighboring properties zoned residential, the parking lot will be bordered by an eight-foot greenspace with trees and a six-foot privacy fence on the property line. Likewise, greenspace will border the entire property. Myers said the VA requires a quarter of the property to be planted, with a quarter of that being flowering plants.

“They take care of their properties. They’d be a good member of this community,” he said. “The VA is self-sufficient. They have their own police, their own maintenance. … They encourage bus traffic and would build a bus stop to get people there.”

Currently, the site is overgrown lots with a few foundations and concrete pads showing underneath. Toward the back of the property is an abandoned building that’s had its utilities disconnected, Downing said.

“This is important not only for the VA, but for Youngstown,” he said. “With this site being built, I can see it tie in the hospital [St. Elizabeth] and Youngstown State. It maybe compresses this area and kicks off some other development.”

When the VA put out a request for proposals for a new clinic, its boundaries for the site were quite broad, bordered by Interstate 80, U.S. Route 224, state Route 11 and state Route 616. Downing himself considered sites in Warren and Boardman before settling on the parcels along Belmont Avenue.

“It was just for the community, not specifically for Youngstown. It was important for us to retain the employment associated with this project and work with them to find and develop a site within city limits,” said T. Sharon Woodberry, director of community planning and economic development for the city. 

With the 20-year lease, Downing said the VA is locked into that agreement. The agency is expected to begin operations in October 2020.

“There’s no pulling out if in 10 years they don’t get funding,” he said. “All the funding is all in place. This’ll be here for years.”

In late May, Woodberry added, Youngstown and the neighboring Liberty Township were awarded funds through the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments to do a study on the Belmont corridor, stretching from downtown Youngstown to the Churchill Commons Plaza north of Interstate 80. The purpose of the study is to look at how the area can be reconfigured and revitalized, in turn spurring both residential and commercial development.

For such efforts, she continued, projects like the new VA Outpatient Clinic are vital.

“It’s a critical component because of the size of investment that’s happening. We typically look for some sort of anchor institution or development along the area,” she said. “We are working on a corridor plan for Belmont and to have this as an anchor is critical in trying to push additional investment. We’d like to continue to improve and have occupancy that start with the [clinic] and spreads out from there.”

Pictured: Joe Myers of Joseph Myers Architects, which is designing the new VA Outpatient Clinic, discusses the building with Youngstown’s Board of Zoning Appeals and City Planning Commission Tuesday.

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