Property Owners Decry Proposed Route 224 Changes

BOARDMAN, Ohio – The owners of the Applewood Commons shopping center say they had a tenant lined up for the spaces occupied by Bed Bath & Beyond until last year and Pier 1, which has been vacant since 2020.

The two retail spaces, with a combined 41,200 square feet of space, remain vacant today, Fond Property Group principal Vince Fond Jr. reported.

“The delivery date was Jan. 1, so we would have been in construction phase right now,” he said. “We had the lease execution sets completed.”

That changed when Fond shared details of a study related to a safety upgrade project being proposed for a nearly 2-mile stretch of U.S. Route 224.

One of the changes being eyed as part of the upgrades is the elimination of the traffic light at the entrance of Applewood Commons on the north side of Route 224 and the eastern entrance to the Shops at Boardman Park on the route’s south side.

“They immediately terminated lease negotiations,” Fond said.

Fond Property Group, based in Liberty Township, owns several Route 224 properties near the traffic signal, including the Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts Store also directly served by the signal, Steak ’n Shake, Verizon Wireless and Raising Cane’s. Previous safety work done on the road eliminated a point of access to Raising Cane’s, he said.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has been looking at the Route 224 corridor for many years and made several adjustments to alleviate congestion along the heavily traveled roadway, Ray Marsch, public information officer for the ODOT District 4 office, said in late January. A five-year study conducted by ODOT found nearly 1,900 crashes along the corridor over a five-year period, more than 30% resulting in an injury and three fatalities.

With removal of the Applewood Commons/Shops at Boardman Park signal, it would convert to an all-in/right-out intersection to permit entering right turns and left turns into the plazas, and right turns out of the plazas, according to Marsch.

“U.S. 224 along this corridor has over 33,000 vehicles traveling along it every day. Each time traffic is required to stop, it adds to congestion, which contributes to crashes,” he said Friday.

“This section of U.S. 224 has three signalized intersections, spaced at 600 feet and 485 feet, respectively. Current standards recommend signals to be spaced no closer than a quarter mile, but preferably a half mile apart,” he continued. “By removing the signal at the Shops at Boardman Park/Applewood Commons, improved signal spacing can be achieved, leading to a reduction in the number of conflict points, reduced delays and more consistent traffic flows, which together contribute to a reduction in the number of crashes occurring.”

In addition to eliminating some traffic signals along the corridor, the proposed plans include adding a third lane eastbound and westbound; installing median dividers and modifying commercial driveways; installing turn lanes at select intersections; and adding pedestrian facilities such as sidewalks and improved crossings at intersections along the corridor.

“The traffic study indicates that the proposed modifications, as a whole, will actually increase both the fatal/serious accident frequency by two per year, and visible injury crash frequency by over two per year, while reducing total crashes by only 15%,” Fond wrote in a Feb. 9 email to ODOT.

Vince Fond III and Vince Fond Jr. stand in front of the former Bed Bath & Beyond and Pier 1 stores.

The signal that serves Applewood Commons and the Shops is “one of the better performing signals on 224,” said Vince Fond III, chief operating officer of Fond Property Group.

“It meets all of the spacing criteria as far as minimum distance required,” he continued. The “only argument provided” for eliminating it is that fewer signals are better.

The company received a form letter in response to objections it raised during a stakeholder engagement period last year but has had no other contact from ODOT, he said.

In a Feb. 16 email to The Business Journal, Fond Jr. said he saw “no clear rationale” for the removal of the traffic signal and reported that other members of the Route 224 business community have expressed opposition.

He also pointed out Friday that Fond Property Group bore the expense of installing the turn-in lane after it purchased the property in 1998, which Bed Bath & Beyond requested during lease negotiations.

Handel Investments, which owns the Shops at Boardman Park, paid for installation of the traffic signal. The Shops property contains several national retailers, including Target, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Kohl’s and Hallmark.

Handel Investments founder David Handel wrote a letter to the Boardman Township Board of Trustees in agreement with Fond regarding the project, stating that he “100%” agreed with and supported Fond’s concerns. Furthermore, as a lifelong resident of the township and developer of nearly 1 million square feet of space there, he said he was “intimately familiar with the traffic circumstance” on Route 224.

“I believe the improvements proposed by ODOT will not only serve to deteriorate the current traffic conditions on U.S. Route 224, but will also negatively impact all of the businesses that have chosen to locate on U.S. Route 224 because of the current traffic situation,” he said.

He also reminded “all concerned” that the tax revenue generated by this section of Route 224 benefits both Mahoning County and Boardman Township.

“These improvements will undoubtedly have a negative impact on that revenue. This is especially concerning given the recent migration of several retailers to Trumbull County,” he cautioned in the letter.

Fond Jr. is continuing to market the vacant Pier 1 and Bed Bath & Beyond spaces, but potential tenants are “hesitant” because of the proposed traffic changes, he said. 

“It’s a negative economic impact on our property and the Shops,” Fond III said. “But it will also just increase congestion and confusion at these other intersections where all these changes are taking place.”

The department sought comments through March 1 concerning the project.

“We will review all the comments/questions provided from the public regarding the project and respond to all of those who left a comment. All responses will be posted to the website as well,” Marsch said.

Right-of-way acquisition is scheduled to begin this spring, followed by construction starting in spring 2026.

Pictured at top: Vince Fond Jr. and Vince Fond III stand near the Applewood Commons entrance. Behind them is the traffic light on the north side of Route 224.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.