By JORDYN GRZELEWSKI
The township board of trustees on Monday approved a zone change requested by a company looking to develop a Meijer supermarket at U.S. Route 224 and Lockwood Boulevard.
At a hearing attended by about 50, the board voted unanimously in favor of the zone change that previously had been rejected 4-1 by the township zoning commission.
Prior to the vote, the board heard from the development company and Meijer representatives, supporters of the project, and residents who said Meijer is welcome but the location isn’t right.
The company plans to purchase a 39-acre property from Mercy Health; donate 22 acres on the back of the property to be put into a conservation easement; and develop on 17 acres. Thirteen of the 17 acres already were zoned commercial, and this action rezoned the other four from residential to commercial.
Most who spoke in opposition to the project said they think Meijer would be a good fit for the Boardman community, but that the location isn’t right for the project due to traffic and the proximity to residences.
“Meijer is a good company and I think it’s something that would be welcome in Boardman, but this isn’t a good spot for it with all the residential around it,” said Rick Detwiler, who lives near the site. “No matter how you buffer this property, the noise carries, the light carries. There’s going to be increased traffic.”
Stuart Rothman also expressed concerns about traffic and said the company should look at vacant commercial spaces such as the former Hobby Lobby site.
Representatives from Carnegie Management and Development Corp. and Meijer sought to address some of the concerns.
Al Bogna, vice president of real estate and development for Carnegie, said his company went through a lengthy process with Western Reserve Land Conservancy about unlocking 1.2 acres that was protected by a conservation easement. In order to develop on those 1.2 acres, the company agreed to donate an additional six acres for conservation.
A letter from the conservancy group’s chairman said the company donating 22 acres to the township “would provide a significant benefit and additional assurances to the community.”
Project leaders said there would be an 800-foot buffer zone between the planned facility and the nearby residences, a point to which township trustees said they would hold the developers.
In response to concerns about crime that could come with the addition of a big-box store, police Chief Todd Werth said he contacted police chiefs in other communities with Meijer stores.
“From a law-enforcement perspective, I wouldn’t find it would have an adverse impact on the township,” he said.
Cris Jones, Meijer real-estate manager, said the company plans to invest about $20 million into building a 159,000-square-foot store that would employ about 250 people. In response to questions about the types of jobs the store would create, he said it would be a mix of full- and part-time positions, all of which would offer full benefits.
The company has hired an engineering firm to go through the Ohio Department of Transportation-required process of conducting a traffic study, which some residents said they had expected to be complete before trustees took action on the request.
One factor Jones said could alleviate traffic is that Meijer is also looking at developing stores in Niles and Austintown.
“This is not going to be a huge draw for people in other markets,” he said.
Among the residents who spoke in favor of the zone change was John Burgan, the only zoning commission member who voted for it. Trustees had the final say on the zoning.
“I came to that meeting really unsure, but my feeling is, it’s hard to attract good companies to come to this area and I feel Meijer is a good company,” he said. He noted another company could develop at anytime on the 13 acres, and said he feels Meijer is the best option for the site.
Sarah Boyarko, senior vice president of economic development for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, said the project could lead other retailers to locate in the township, a point Jones reiterated by saying Meijer has a group of retailers that often follows the grocery store to new locations, such as Jersey Mike’s, Starbucks, and Panda Express.
Meijer is a family-owned supercenter chain headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich. that operates 240 stores across the country and 40 in Ohio.
The project must next go through the township’s site-plan review process, which will address issues such as lighting, parking, storm water and landscaping.