Economic Development

O’Brien Amendment Clears Hurdle for TJX Project

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Ohio Senate passed legislation Wednesday that would advance the timetable for a potential referendum on a zoning change sought by TJX Companies Inc., but disarray in the state House of Representatives offers the bill an uncertain future.

The Lordstown Planning Commission earlier this month approved rezoning for seven parcels, changing them to industrial from residential, where Massachusetts-based TJX is pursuing plans to build a regional distribution center for its HomeGoods brand. The center is expected to cost more than $160 million and employ 1,000 workers.

If Village Council upholds the planning commission’s decision, opponents of the zone change have threatened to seek a referendum to overturn the zone change. Under current law, that referendum would have to go on the November general election ballot, potentially imperiling the TJX project.

Sought by state Sen. Sean O’Brien, an amendment to House Bill 292 that moves a potential referendum on the zone change to August was unanimously adopted in the state senate ways and means committee was passed on the Senate floor.

“This should bring it to a head if there’s a referendum,” Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill said Wednesday afternoon.

Discussions with company officials, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, state Rep. Glenn Holmes and Hill made apparent that TJX would need to begin construction preparations before this fall for the project to be feasible, according to a news release from O’Brien’s office. The process in the amendment is temporary, will narrowly apply to the Lordstown situation, clears up procedural questions and contains an emergency clause to ensure the expedited timeline.

“This amendment gives the people of Lordstown the ability to vote to approve the Lordstown TJX project if they choose to do so,” said O’Brien, D-32 Bazetta, in a statement. The amendment accelerates the process so, “if there is a vote in support of TJX, the project will move forward in an expedited manner,” he said.

“It’s important to allow people to petition their government,” said Holmes, D-63 McDonald. “If we can do that sooner rather than later, it would help everybody.”

Guy Coviello, vice president of government affairs for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, which has been assisting the company with the project, was in Columbus for Wednesday’s vote and other matters. He praised the Ohio Senate for its action in support of the project.

Approval of the legislation by the lower chamber and a signature by Gov. John Kasich would let the TJX project move forward more quickly and meet TJX’s deadline. The company wants to be operating in the new warehouse by 2020.

“The amendment will protect the local election process, and it was important that we were able to get this done before summer recess,” O’Brien said.

When the Ohio House might take a concurrence vote on H.B. 292 remains unknown. The lower chamber has been in disorder since the sudden resignation of Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, who is the subject of a federal investigation.

Republicans, who are in the majority, have been unable to elect a new speaker, leading to the cancellation of the last four House sessions.

“It would benefit all of Ohio for [Republicans] to get their house in order quickly,” Holmes said. “If it doesn’t happen, it’s solely their fault.”

Coviello was hopeful action could take place on the legislation next week. The House has two as-needed session dates each week for the next three weeks.

“There are a number of bills that need concurrence, so I’m hopeful that those two days next week we can wrap this up,” said.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.