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Stow -- City Council kicks off the new year with two controversial pieces of zoning legislation this week.
One ordinance, if approved, would lay the groundwork for the Marhofer Chevrolet car dealership on Darrow Road to pursue an expansion.
The second, if approved, will permit the construction and operation of crematoriums at Stow funeral homes.
Public hearing monday
A public hearing begins at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 7 in Council Chambers on a proposed change to the city's zoning code that would conditionally permit truck, boat and auto sales and rental businesses in C-3 Community Retail and C-4 General Business zoning districts.
If approved, the change would make the Marhofer dealership, which is in a C-3 district, a conditionally permitted use. The lot is currently a legal non-conforming use because the business was founded in the early 1900s before the city's current zoning code was created. The business needs the new zoning classification before it can pursue possible expansion plans.
The proposed amendment includes revisions to the requirements for conditional uses in commercially zoned districts for auto, boat and truck sales and rentals, such as increasing the minimum lot area and the minimum lot width.
Planning Director Rob Kurtz has said the purpose of the increases is so there will be minimal impact to surrounding residential lots.
The changes would also add new regulations for how such dealerships already permitted in C-5 districts do business and can use their property, including prohibiting loud outdoor speakers and requiring all portions of a dealer's property used for sales or storage of vehicles to be paved, among other regulations.
Some locals, like Thorndale Avenue residents Allyson and Doug Burley, who have been represented in Council meetings by attorney Michael Gordon, said they understand Marhofer wants to expand down their street by potentially purchasing and tearing down three homes. The Burleys have said they are against the zoning amendment and the business' expansion into Thorndale as they believe it may adversely affect the neighborhood's aesthetics and property values.
Other residents have said they're against the zoning change because of how it could enable similar dealerships in Stow conforming with the increased lot requirements to expand, potentially harming neighborhoods around those areas.
Through attorney John Slagter, Ron Marhofer of Marhofer Chevrolet originally requested that the city's zoning code text allow auto sales businesses in C-3 districts. Kurtz has said that because auto sales businesses already are permitted in C-5 districts, the city has requested that they be permitted in C-4 districts as well.
Slagter has said remaining a non-conforming use is detrimental to the business because of the restrictions attached to that designation, which prevent the dealership from reopening if it goes out of commission for six months in the event of some unforeseen circumstance like a fire or union strike.
Slagter noted the restrictions attached to a non-conforming use also include a cap on how much a company can invest in physical renovations.
After the public hearing, City Council will be able to vote on the zoning change at the Jan. 10 regular City Council meeting.
Crematorium vote Thursday
A public hearing on the zoning amendment permitting crematoriums began Dec. 10 and resumed Dec. 13.
Council members voted 4-3 to have the ordinance tabled until the next regular Council meeting on Jan. 10. The ordinance will likely be discussed, however, during the Jan. 7 meeting of Council's Planning Committee.
Council's decision to postpone a vote came after dozens of testimonies from both proponents and opponents of the legislation during the public hearing.
The legislation became an issue of controversy after being introduced to Council by representatives of Redmon Funeral Home who have said the business would like to install a crematory at its location on 3633 Darrow Road.
The city's only other funeral home is the Dunn-Quigley Funeral Home, located at 3333 Kent Road.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Mary Bednar, who is the chair of the Planning Committee, said residents' concerns seem to center on reservations with how public health and property values could be impacted for those living near funeral homes where the crematoriums could be built.
"Character does count," said Bednar on Dec. 13, referencing the Redmon family's reputation in the community, "but at the same time, we need to look at what's in front of us in black and white on paper."
Bednar said she'd like to find a solution that appeases everyone, but the answer on how to reach that is unclear.
"We've had six months, but in my opinion, if it [construction of a crematorium] is not going to move forward in a short period of time, I'd like to look at some other things," said At-Large Councilman Pribonic on Dec. 13. "Maybe nothing will change, but the point is, I think we owe that to our city."
Law Director Brian Reali has noted that Council has 90 days from an ordinance's first reading to act on it. The Jan. 10 meeting will be the last opportunity Council has to vote on the ordinance before the legislation-approval process starts over.
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