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Stow -- The city is looking at zoning and how land is used in the city and is inviting the public to look at some proposals, ask questions and provide feedback.
After receiving an update on a review of the city's 15-year-old comprehensive plan during an Aug. 23 planning commission work session, a community meeting was scheduled in City Council chambers at City Hall on Sept. 27 at 6 p.m.
"We're still in the draft stage, but we want to test these ideas, these draft ideas," said Planning Director Rob Kurtz.
Kristin Hopkins, planning services manager with CT Consultants, which the city hired earlier this year as a consultant on the review, estimated the community meeting would last about two hours and start with a short presentation to explain "where we are and how we got here," followed by "an open house kind of thing with displays."
"We have taken a stab at draft policy statements," said Hopkins.
She said there would be two more planning commission work sessions in the months after the meeting to discuss a proposal to revise the comprehensive plan, then a second community meeting.
"Even when we're done, it's a draft," said Hopkins, adding that the planning commission and City Council would still have to approve a final proposal.
Hopkins said the current proposal is the result of an initial commission work session and three focus groups. Kurtz told the commission that participants, totaling nearly 30 individuals, were either randomly chosen or were people who had contacted him with concerns.
"So I had the names," he said.
During the Aug. 23 meeting, Hopkins reviewed an updated proposal. It includes citywide policy ideas concerning under-used retail space and residential development.
Hopkins said that overall, retail spaces in the city are more than 90 percent filled, but "there are pockets in some shopping centers that are heavily vacant," including on Graham Road, west of Route 8, and at Route 91 and Norton Road.
Commission member William Ross said he believes some of the vacancy problem may be because larger spaces are harder to market.
"There is market for 10,000-square-foot spaces. There is not a market for 25,000-square-foot spaces," said Ross.
Residential development needs,said Hopkins, are based on such factors as what kind of housing is desired and the demographics of an aging population and meeting the needs of younger families.
Hopkins also said there is limited vacant land left for residential development, especially with the presence of wetlands and other issues in some places, and questions arose during one focus group looking specifically at residential development as to whether all of this land should be developed anyway.
"There's not a whole lot of easy residential land left to develop," said Hopkins.
Overall goals for the city, she said, currently include development in the Route 8 corridor to increase the tax base, bringing in new residents to better support retail, offering a variety of amenities to make the city attractive to potential new residents, pushing for the redesign and redevelopment of retail areas that are struggling, and strategically offering public assistance when possible to help with development.
"Consider the bang for your buck when considering any assistance," said Hopkins.
Ross said this could include financial assistance to aid with design work and Kurtz said the city already can provide such assistance with grants by the Stow Community Improvement Corporation.
The review process
The review process is looking at about a dozen specific areas around the city including:
/ The area around the Route 8 and Seasons Road interchange, which is primarily zoned industrial with some vacant land.
/ Steels Corners Road, west of Route 8, which is zoned residential.
/ Vacant residential land north of Graham Road and west of Hudson Drive which does not have easy access currently to any main streets.
/ Gilbert Road behind the Wal-Mart and Lowes Home Improvement stores on the northwest quadrant of Hudson Drive and Graham Road.
/ The northeast corner of the Graham and Gilbert roads intersection and the northeast quadrant of the Route 8 on ramp west of the Silver Lake Country Club.
/ Two sections of the "country lane" like Hudson Drive corridor between the Route 8 overpass to the south and an old railroad spur line and the spur line to Steels Corners Road.
/ The Darrow Road corridor north of the City Center complex.
/ The area of Darrow around the City Center complex on the northwest corner of the intersection with Graham Road.
/ The area around the Fishcreek and Stow roads intersection.
/ The area around the Darrow and Kent roads intersection.
Hopkins said the Darrow and Graham roads intersection is seen by people as Stow's downtown, but the Darrow and Kent roads intersection may make more sense for this, with potential to make it more pedestrian friendly with a mixed use of residential, retail and office.
"One of the things we heard loud and clear is [Darrow and Graham] is the downtown," said Hopkins.
"The only reason why it's considered downtown is because it's where the city buildings are," said Commission member Chris Brauer, adding that Kent, Cuyahoga Falls and Hudson have all worked to create attractive downtown areas.
"Everybody wants something special, it doesn't matter what it is," said Kurtz. "It takes money, it takes drive, it takes the will of the people."
Go to stowohio.org/businessdevelopment/compplan for more information about the comprehensive plan and review.
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