There was more at stake in the referendum Tuesday in Lordstown than just the promise of 1,000 jobs at a 1.2 million-square-foot distribution center proposed by HomeGoods, a division of TJX Companies Inc.
The outcome of the special election carried broader implications for the Mahoning Valley.
Companies around the country and economic-development specialists were paying attention to see how welcoming this region is to a major corporation that is seeking to invest $170 million in a project.
HomeGoods has options on a 290-acre site along Hallock Young and Ellsworth Bailey roads and had sought the rezoning of the seven parcels from residential to industrial.
Lordstown Village Council approved the rezoning, which prompted opponents to seek a vote of the people.
Fortunately, a vast majority of the 1,331 Lordstown residents who cast ballots rolled out the welcome mat for HomeGoods.
By voting “yes” voters not only embraced the national retailer’s plans for the distribution center, but also sent a clear message that the economic implications of the project were important for the region’s future.
Opponents of the zone changes have insisted all along they aren’t against the center, but they don’t want it in their backyard. They own homes in the vicinity of the 290-acre site.
They have voiced concern about dust, lights, noise, water runoff and increased traffic. They also insist there are other sites in the village that would meet HomeGoods’ needs.
On Wednesday, some of the opponents filed a lawsuit in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court challenging the legality of the referendum. They are asking the court to set aside the result of the special election.
While we are not insensitive to the anxiety of residents over having an enormous building in their neighborhood, we have urged them to take a broader view of the project.
For its part, HomeGoods has bent over backward to address the concerns of the homeowners.
The company has offered to install noise buffers, LED lighting directed toward the building, road rerouting, traffic lights and a retention pond for rainwater runoff.
It has promised to donate 100 acres for the buffer zone between the distribution center and the residential areas, to give $500,000 to the Lordstown Local Schools (in return for tax abatements the company is seeking), and to create opportunities for internships for area college students.
The outcome of Tuesday’s referendum vote sends a clear message to any national company looking to expand its operation: The Mahoning Valley wants you.
Earlier this year, when it appeared that HomeGoods was considering pulling up stakes because of the opposition from some of the Lordstown residents, we said this:
“So long as there’s a sliver of hope that the Valley is still in contention, the public and private sectors should make HomeGoods an offer it can’t refuse.
“Indeed, the loss of two shifts at General Motors’ Lordstown assembly plant has cast a huge shadow over the region.
“With more than 2,000 highly paid workers affected, the Valley’s economy is taking a major hit. It is, therefore, inconceivable we would let HomeGoods slip through our fingers.
“But that could well be the outcome if the resistance by a group of residents in Lordstown ends up defining us.”
Not only has that resistance failed to define the Valley, the overwhelming support in the village for the zoning changes is an exclamation point for this project.
There’s a lot of credit to go around for the referendum result, but suffice it to say that the coming together of area politicians, labor and business leaders and community activists has been one of the highlights of this project.
Such cooperation bodes well for this region given the uncertain future of GM’s Lordstown assembly complex.
The plant makes the Chevrolet Cruze, a compact car that was once a top-seller in GM’s fleet, but is now experiencing hard times.
As the demand for crossovers, SUVs and trucks has increased, sales of the Cruze have plummeted.
GM has refused to discuss the future of the Lordstown complex and will not commit to bringing in another product once the Cruze is put to rest.
If the automaker decides to shutter the complex, the Valley will be faced with an even greater challenge than the one issued by HomeGoods in its bid for the rezoning of seven parcels from residential to industrial.