Not enough Planning Commission members favored a proposed five-storey senior housing development on East Bridge Street to move the project forward.
Twenty-nine people linked onto the Zoom meeting on April 15 with another five in City Council chambers. None of the residents in attendance who addressed the commission favored the plan, which would have been located on East Bridge between Coe and Seminary streets. Baldwin Wallace University owns the property, which contains student housing. BW would sell the property to the developer, Omni Senior Living. Omni would demolish the buildings, which date to 1944, and move the 66 students housed there to other BW dorms.
In the end, the Planning Commission vote was 3 yes and 2 no to OK stage 1 of the approval process, but a majority of all seven members of the commission (4 votes) was needed to move forward. Only five members were present. Member Nick Haschka was absent. Dan Smith recused himself because he lives across the street from the proposed project.
Karen Averill of Omni presented the preliminary plans for the Vitalia Active Adult Community. She said it would encompass senior apartments, independent living, assisted living and memory care units.
When Omni first approached the City last November, plans were to use two sites – one at Bagley and Eastland and the one on East Bridge. BW owns both properties. The original plan was for a four-storey building. After BW withdrew the Bagley/Eastland site, Omni combined all of its services in one building, which would house 185 seniors.
Averill said while BW pays no property taxes to the City, Vitaila would pay more than $4 million in taxes over 10 years with a tax abatement agreement. The facility also would contribute $500,000 in payroll taxes for its 60 employees. Plus residents of the building would frequent area businesses and attend Learning in Retirement classes at BW.
“This is a perfect spot for residents to walk to the downtown and visit local businesses,” said Gary Biales, director of development for Omni.
Neighbors voiced concerns over the size of the 200,000-square-foot building, which would measure 69 feet high, dwarfing the Berea Historical Society off Coe Street. There also were concerns about parking and traffic.
Matt Madzy, chair of the Planning Commission, explained that the presentation was Stage 1 for approval of a Planned Unit Development. The purpose was to get feedback and guidance from the community and to make sure the project met certain criteria. Stages 2 and 3 would have involved approvals from City Council, the Heritage Architectural Review Board and Planning Commission.