Avon Lake

Questions over the future accessibility and use of industrially zoned land on Pin Oak Parkway are holding up a lot split to let the school district begin its construction of a new bus garage.

The Planning Commission met April 6 to hear Avon Lake City School Superintendent Bob Scott and Director of Operations and Secondary Curriculum Greg Ludwig present a lot split for 5 acres of land on Pin Oak Parkway. The school district has entered into a purchase agreement with Pin Oak Holdings LLC for a plot of land with 400 feet of frontage to the east of Thogus Products Company.

The owners of Thogus Products Company, the Hlavin family, are also on the board of trustees that controls Pin Oak Holdings LLC. The holding company owns about 35 acres of open land between Pin Oak Parkway and Webber Road between the Klingshirn Winery and Hall Contracting Services. The land is zoned for industry and light industry along Webber Road.

Land locking

Commission member Ed McNamara suggested the Pin Oak Parkway frontage would land lock everything to the north, leaving 30 acres of land without any access.

“We don’t make decisions based on money but what’s best for the community,” McNamara said. “Why leave 30 acres not accessible?”

While Webber Road runs north of the property, it is a smaller asphalt road that couldn’t handle heavy trucks used by industrial companies. It currently accommodates residential traffic from the neighborhoods to the north and light industrial traffic from the companies to the south.

Ludwig explained he began looking for potential land for the bus garage away from school property because the district would end up building too close to residential areas or taking over green space. He said he called City Engineering Manager Joe Reitz in October to look at available land on Pin Oak Parkway. Though the district considered seven or eight different sites on the street, including a parcel north of the Thogus Products building, the district decided to purchase the land east of the Thogus building.

The school board only learned about the problem with the city a few weeks ago, Ludwig said. When the district talked to the landowner, he said they didn’t want to sell the land north of the building and offered the land to the east.

“We had no conception there was an economic issue with the city at all,” Ludwig said. “We will plead innocent to that charge.”

In a memo to the Planning Commission, Reitz provided options to allow the lot split. He suggested the school district construct a driveway with all utilities to provide access to the northern property, similar to what Thogus did to the west of its building. Another option would be for Thogus to allow its driveway to act as access to the land north of the bus garage. He also said there could be an agreement with the property owner to the east, Klingshirn Winery, although that could make it difficult for the winery to develop. The last suggestion was to discuss a rezoning of the light industrial land, but that would be detrimental to Webber Road, he wrote.

Planning Commission Chairman Gary Fell said the city could require the school district to put in a driveway, but he doesn’t consider that to be the school’s responsibility. If Pin Oak Holdings LLC wants to sell the school district the property, it can, he said. The company would then have to come to the Planning Commission for any future lot splits.

“It’s their issue, not your issue,” he said.

Fell said Pin Oak Holdings LLC owns the land, leaving it up to the company to provide the access for future development.

Communication breakdown

There are other areas the school district could have gone with, Scott said during the meeting, but the cost would have been more, either through the purchase price itself or the work required to prepare the land for construction. He said the school district informed the city it was originally looking at properties on Pin Oak Parkway, but they are only now learning of the issues.

“We’re sitting here going, ‘If someone said this last January or December, we would have gone somewhere else,’” Scott said.

The timing is unclear of when the city was first informed about the school district’s intent to purchase the land east of the Thogus building. The Planning Commission held a work session in November to meet with the district about the construction plans, during which the commission learned the school district was looking at several properties on Pin Oak. The city received its official notice when the school district submitted an application for the lot split March 23, the same day the school board entered into the purchase agreement with Pin Oak Holdings LLC.

Reitz said he knew the school was looking at the property east of the Thogus building before he received the lot split application, but he couldn’t remember exactly how early.

An e-mail dated March 9 from Reitz to Jeff Keefe of KS Associates, the engineering firm hired by the school, and Rodney Wiford of Fanning Howey, the architecture firm designing the bus garage, indicated Reitz spoke with Ludwig the day before. Reitz wrote that Ludwig told him the district was ready to file for the lot split property, but Reitz told him he had not yet seen the formal submission and request.

Reitz then told the e-mail’s recipients, “This lot split will have to go (to) the Planning Commission for review and you are running out of time to go to the April meeting. Please tell me they have a contingent purchase agreement for this property based on an approved site plan.”

In an interview, Reitz said he brought the land-lock issue to the school district as early as he could. He said he tried to make the district aware of the issues, as both City Council and the mayor have set economic development as a high priority. He said he didn’t do anything better or worse for the school district than he does for any applicant.

“We did our due diligence,” Reitz said. “I truly feel we do this with every applicant.”

There also appears to be some confusion over when the school district was going to go to the Planning Commission with the lot split. In an interview, Ludwig said the school district was initially unaware it had to go to the Planning Commission for the split. Though he couldn’t remember if he had told the city which piece of land the district wanted to buy before the lot split application, he said the city knew the district was looking at Pin Oak Parkway since November. The district would have needed a lot split with any property on there, he said.

“It wasn’t until a month or so ago we heard the Planning Commission did indeed need to be involved in the lot split,” he said.

It is not up to the city, however, to inform future applicants about this process. Reitz said the city’s Web site has all the codes and other information available. Had the district gone to the county with the paperwork, he said it would have sent the district back to the city for approval. While the school district may have been unaware of this because it hasn’t performed a lot split before, he said the firms hired by the district should have known.

“It can’t be the first time the architect has done (a) lot split for a project,” Reitz said. “It’s not the first time KS Associates had to do it. How that didn’t get passed from the consultant to the schools, I can’t answer.”

Zoning issues

During the meeting, several Planning Commission members expressed concern over the rezoning of the land north of the Thogus building and future bus garage from industrial and light industrial to residential. McNamara said the commission has to think about the future development in Avon Lake. Pin Oak was built for industrial and light industrial companies, he said. He said planning commission members will wonder why they allowed this split if it allows the northern land to be rezoned to residential. Commission member Michael Sherban echoed McNamara, stating he is against rezoning for anything but industrial.

McNamara said afterward he based his comment on what happened when Hinkley Lighting began moving to Pin Oak Parkway.

As part of the deal to sell 20 acres of land for the new Hinkley Lighting facility on Pin Oak, Thomas Wasserman, the property owner, requested Oct. 2, 2007, the Planning Commission rezone 16 acres of light industrial land north of the facility to R-2 multifamily residential. The commission granted the rezoning by a 5-2 vote.

Reitz said in an interview this was all presented in the discussion of whether Hinkley would come to Avon Lake. Bringing in Hinkley would use up most of the property but would leave some open that would be difficult to develop. The property owner had talked to a developer and came up with a plan for multifamily units.

The Planning Commission tabled the lot split April 6 to allow Pin Oak Holdings LLC to come in and explain their intentions for the northern part of the property. Reitz said he met with Matt and Dale Hlavin, who are on the company’s board of trustees, and they or a representative will be present for the May 11 Planning Commission meeting.

Matt Hlavin did not return a call for comment.

In an interview, Ludwig said he has met with the Hlavin family, and they believe they have a few possible solutions to discuss at the next meeting.

“I think we’ll be fine,” he said.

Contact Bryan Wroten at bwroten@2presspapers.com

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