TJX Rezoning Hearing Set for This Morning

TJX Referendum Backers, Foes Make Moves Ahead of Vote

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Supporters of TJX Companies Inc.’s proposed $160 million HomeGoods distribution center are ramping up their efforts leading up to next Tuesday’s vote on the TJX referendum – even as opponents accuse them of violating state election law.

The Cafaro Co. announced Thursday morning that, in partnership with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, it would sponsor free transportation to get village voters to the polls to vote on whether to overturn the village’s rezoning of seven parcels of land for the project. The election is scheduled for Aug. 21.

The Niles real estate development and management firm is sponsoring the service – which will be offered through Trumbull County Transit — “to help people exercise their right to vote,” according to a company news release. Village residents should call 330 369 2600 to request a ride to the Lordstown Administration Center, 1455 Salt Springs Road, where voting for all three precincts will take place Tuesday.

“The upside of bringing a distribution center with all those jobs and all the potential revenue is a very important issue,” Cafaro spokesman Joe Bell said Thursday. “It’s in the best interests of the people of Lordstown to exercise their right to vote on this.”

In June, Lordstown Village Council approved the rezoning of the property where TJX  wants to build a 1.2-million-square-foot distribution center to service its HomeGoods store brand. Last month, opponents of the rezoning succeeded in gathering enough petitions to put each of the seven rezoning requests up for a referendum.

Legislation approved by the Ohio General Assembly earlier this year allowed the village to schedule an Aug. 21 special election for the referendum vote. Otherwise, the referendum would have had to take place in conjunction with this year’s general election in November, a delay that would have potentially endangered the project.

Project supporters – including village leaders, members of the state legislative delegation, the chamber and the office of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan – have coordinated to see what each can do to support TJX and get village residents out to vote, said Sarah Boyarko the chamber’s senior vice president for economic development.

The chamber has used social media to deliver the targeted message of how the TJX project would benefit the community as well as urged the community to get out and vote, she said.

“This is now up to the people of Lordstown. Everybody knows what is going on,” Ryan, D-13 Ohio, said. “We’ve presented a pretty good case. I did offer to go knock on doors if need be. But I think it’s important for the community to just get the information and make a decision about what they think is in the best interest of the village.”

The mood among the people Ryan has talked to seems positive toward the project, the congressman said Thursday. People are voting early by going to the Trumbull County Board of Elections, so residents appear to be engaged in the issue, he said.

But opponents haven’t given up the fight. Brett Dickson, a village resident who opposes the rezoning, filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission against the Warren Area Board of Realtors and its CEO, Roberta Hiller; and the village of Lordstown and its mayor, Arno Hill.

The complaint centers on two semi trailers featuring large banners urging voters to support the rezoning in next week’s election. According to the complaint, the banners, which are political in nature, do not depict ownership on them as required by the Trumbull County Board of Elections and the Ohio Revised Code, and violate village ordinances as well.

The Warren Area Board of Realtors responded with a statement Thursday that the signs “clearly state” they were paid for by the Ohio Realtors, and each have two disclaimers stating that. “The disclaimers were in place the day the signs were installed and are still in place today,” the statement noted.

The realtors association affirmed its support for the TJX project and the rezoning, citing the increase in home values that the jobs offered by the warehouse will generate. TJX officials project the warehouse will employ 1,000 workers within its first five years of operation.

The organization said it would respond “in a timely manner” to the elections complaint, and that it would have “no further statements” regarding the matter.

Each violation carries a fine of up to $500, said Phil Richter, staff attorney for the state elections commission. The commission doesn’t always impose fines, particularly in the case of first-time violators, he noted.

Early voting ahead of next Tuesday’s election day is underway. As of Thursday evening, 58 absentee ballots were issued by mail and 41 of those have been returned, reported Trumbull County elections director Stephanie Penrose. In addition, 183 voters have cast ballots at the board’s offices in Warren.

Penrose projected turnout for eligible Lordstown voters to be about 25%.

Lordstown voters can cast early ballots at the Trumbull County Board of Elections until 2 p.m. Monday, Penrose said. Thhe board’s office is open until 7 p.m. today, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

“Hopefully everything will work out all right because it would be a really huge win for everybody involved,” Ryan said. “I’m cautiously optimistic about it but can’t wait for the 21st to get here.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.