OEPA Holds Hearing on Cafaro’s $367M Enterprise Park

HOWLAND, Ohio – Officials with the Cafaro Co. hope to break ground by midyear 2019 on the $367 million Enterprise Park project off state Route 46 in Howland, pending necessary regulatory approvals.

The Niles-based commercial real estate developer has proposed constructing an office park at the 106.7-acre site, the centerpiece of which would be a medical hospital, said Joe Bell, director of corporate communications at Cafaro. The hospital would be for a proposed expansion by St. Joseph Warren Hospital.

Other elements of the campus would include a medical education building that would be a joint venture between Youngstown State University and Kent State University at Trumbull, a senior/memory care residential center, two general office buildings, a medical office building and a residential complex, Bell said.

The company projects the park will create 2,200 jobs and generate $99 million in local payroll taxes, $443,000 in state sales taxes and $6 million in real estate taxes annually.

“The best-case scenario is that sometime in the middle of next year we’ll be able to put a shovel in the ground. That’s what we’re hoping for,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts to this.”

Among those moving parts are required environmental approvals. The project would affect 16.34 acres of wetlands and 1,727.5 linear feet of streams on the site, part of the Mosquito Creek watershed.

North Eastwood LLC, a Cafaro subsidiary, has applied for a Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Section 404 Individual permit, according to a Cafaro news release. After evaluating public comments, OEPA will determine whether to grant the joint permit, allowing the project to advance.

After the Ohio EPA makes its determination, a process expected to take two to four months, construction could take two to three years, Bell said.

About 100 people turned out Monday night for an information session and public hearing at Howland High School. OEPA representatives conducted the hearing, taking testimony from both supporters and opponents of the permit application.

Among those speaking on behalf of the project were YSU President Jim Tressel, Kent State Trumbull dean Lance Grahn and Tom Humphries, former president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and chairman of Mercy Health-Youngstown strategic planning committee.

When the project was brought to YSU’s attention, Tressel said, the first item discussed was whether the ecological impact of the project would be addressed with “due diligence and transparency.”

The discussion then turned to two other important areas: education and collaboration, he continued, as the medical field represents an area of great opportunity for students. “We could tremendously grow our medical fields if we could grow our footprint,” he said. “We are in discussions all the time about growing our nursing programs, our physical therapy, our dental hygiene.”

Grahn spoke of the project’s potential “to enhance and drive forward quality of life in the community.” The partnerships involved make the project “a unique opportunity to improve quality of life in the community,” he added.

Humphries pointed to the impact Mercy Health’s St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital has had in Mahoning County, envisioning a similar impact for Trumbull County with the proposed St. Joseph Hospital at Enterprise Park.

Those speaking in opposition to the certification included owners of nearby properties as well as current and former YSU faculty.

Jack Mullen, who owns 198 acres of land along Mosquito Creek, called the area “one of the finest urban wetlands” and criticized the application as “weak” in terms of addressing wildlife.

“This is simply the wrong place to build,” he said.

Lauren Schroeder, a retired YSU biology professor, acknowledged the Cafaro family’s generosity locally, including to many environmental causes. Nevertheless, he said he has several concerns with the project.

Anytime land of any sort is converted to “impervious surfaces,” the runoff from those surfaces carry pollutants such as motor oil and chemicals for clearing parking lots flow into residential waters.

“This will impact the water quality in Mosquito Creek and the Mahoning River,” he said. He expressed concerns about the project’s carbon footprint and its impact on climate change.

“We know this wetland site has ecological significance,” said Felicia Armstrong, YSU professor of ecological sciences.

She also questioned how removing this “carbon sink” might affect global climate. “Not everything can be planned. Nature happens,” Armstrong said.

If the project moves forward, she requested that permitting be done on a building-by-building basis, so analysis can be done along the way to monitor adverse effects, or that the project be moved to an alternative such as the Kmart distribution center site.

Matthew Vansuch, vice chairman of the Howland Township Board of Trustees, said he doesn’t believe development and protecting the environment are mutually exclusive. He requested that any wetland mitigation be permitted in such a way that will benefit township residents and that green infrastructure be incorporated in the project.

“It only makes sense for this project to be developed in a sustainable manner,” Vansuch said.

What many opponents to the project overlooked, Bell said, was that Cafaro would pay into a fund to create an additional 40 wetlands in the Mosquito watershed, for a net gain of 24 acres of wetlands.

With regard to runoff from the property, developers have “come a long ways since the days 50 years ago when you just put down a slab of concrete or asphalt and called it a day,” he continued. “There are a lot of different engineering fixes to keep runoff from becoming a problem.”

Written comments will be accepted though close of business Monday by mail at Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Division of Surface Water, Attn: Permits Processing Unit, P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, OH 43216-1049, or via email at [email protected].

Pictured: A rendering of the proposed Cafaro Co. Enterprise Park in Howland.

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