History in the unmaking: Development may treaten Ravenna landmark homes

By Micah Panczyk Record-Courier staff writer Published:

"It is of the Greek Revival design," said a reverent Alice Kleinhampl, president of the Ravenna Heritage Association. "It is part of Ravenna's history ... it should not be torn down."

Built before the Civil War, this Main Street home is now an emblem of an old issue confronting Ravenna City Council: how far should council bend to businesses that would encroach on a city neighborhood _ and possibly, its heritage _ but generate revenue for city coffers?

The question is most recently raised by CVS Pharmacy's proposal to build a new store at the corner of Pratt and Main streets _ a few blocks east of Revco, which CVS purchased in the spring.

In June, Rite-Aid Corp. proposed a store for one of the city's historic, residential districts near Farmer's Market at 786 E. Main St. _ a venture that would have razed five homes. The proposal vanished, however, in the face of concerted outcry and political opposition.

CVS's venture would require Council to rezone a pair of Pratt Street parcels from residential to commercial use to make way for a parking lot essential to the proposal. On Monday, the city's Planning Committee agreed to prepare an ordinance to this end.

The homes on the residential parcels would be razed, as would a third home standing on a commercial lot near the corner of Pratt and Main streets.

In addition, the project could ultimately result in the demolition of the Watkins House at 344 E. Main St. in the city's Historic District.

The venture, however, would also furnish wider aisles, better parking, a greater selection of products and a drive-through service window _ all of which would enhance convenience for those who presently shop at the downtown Revco, said Sam Petros of Retail Today, the company based in Broadview Heights that would develop the property.

"When your child is sick, the last thing you want to do is stand in line," he said. "This new store would be significantly larger (than the Revco) and would add convenience for consumers."

The new store would be 10,125 square-feet, he said. The Revco store is roughly 3,300 square-feet.

"We need to be careful here," said Council President Kevin Poland. "There's no question this proposal could bring good things to the city of Ravenna. But at the same time, we could set a dangerous precedent if we decide to rezone these parcels. How far can we let business encroach on city neighborhoods?"

One of the homes that might be razed stands at 220 Pratt St. and is owed by 24-year resident Shirley Stone, whose sentiments are at the crossroads of nostalgia and development.

"This house was built in 1864," she said. "I've lived here 24 years. Naturally, I'd be sad to see it go. But the building would improve this corner _ there's nothing on it. And it would bring the city benefits. Ravenna needs more than just antique stores. So I'm willing to sell it."

Aiming to arrange a coexistence between developers and preservationists, RHA has expressed an interest in moving Stone's house as well as that at 228 Pratt St. also slated for demolition. Retail Today, which would purchase these homes would gladly give them to RHA to relocate, Petros said.

"Preservation might be unimportant to some, but if you start tearing everything down, what will be left but vinyl-sided buildings," Kleinhampl said. "Our youth would have no sense of where their community comes from ... of its roots."

In the early 1980's RHA purchased from Rax Restaurant a Greek Revival home at 306 E. Main St. for $1. The home had been built by the Riddle family, which founded the Riddle Coach and Hearse Co. and erected at least 14 buildings since the early 1800's, Kleinhampl said.

The home was scheduled for demolition. RHA, however, turned the house over to a resident who arranged to move it to Shalersville, where it still stands.

"We saved a bit of the city's history," Kleinhampl said. "It was a victory."

But the prospect of a similar triumph today is dubious. The cost of moving a home is between $10,000 and $15,000, according to Kleinhampl. RHS's treasury, however, has only some $7,600, said Treasurer Scott Fosnight.

"I can't fathom where we would get the money," he said. "We just don't have it."

Perhaps the most significant question confronting the RHA, however, concerns the fate of the Watkins House just east of Plaza East. In addition to its place among the nation's historic homes, the structure was sold in 1913 to the Fairchilds, the family that owned Fairchild Funeral Home and Seymour and Fairchild Furniture at No. 8 Fenix Block, Kleinhampl said.

At present, Watkins House is not scheduled for demolition. However, its status is uncertain. The commercial lot Retail Today would purchase is used by Plaza East patrons who park there when the Plaza East lot is full. CVS would build on this "overflow" lot, reducing the number of spaces available for Plaza East patrons.

In order to meet an ordinance requiring a minimum number of parking spaces for buildings of certain size, Plaza East would have to build additional parking. Because Watkins House is adjacent to Plaza East, it is a candidate for demolition, according to Building Inspector Bob Miller. Dr. David Lan, who owns the house, Plaza East and its overflow lot, declined comment.

If Watkin's were to scheduled to fall, RHA might ask the city to withhold a demolition permit or seek a court injunction prohibiting such, Kleinhampl said.

Council president Kevin Poland considered this week issues separate from preservation, noting what he considers the proposal's potential benefits and risks.

"There's no doubt their building would be an attractive addition to downtown," Poland said. "The kind of operations that qualify for commercial use are wide-ranging. It is possible that, in the future, something far less attractive could go on that site. In this sense, the CVS proposal is fairly attractive."

Kleinhampl echoed the president's thoughts concerning the store's physical appeal, saying "it would complement Plaza East and certainly appears to be a nice-looking building."

The home standing on the commercial lot is in "significant need of repair ... and would be removed," Poland said, citing this removal as one of proposal's benefits.

In addition, were the home at 228 Pratt St. razed, it would allow the city to repair a notoriously poor storm sewer, he said.

Poland raised a pair of concerns, however. The first involves traffic.

"Main Street near Elm and Pratt is a notorious bottleneck area," he said. "Given this, I'm concerned that cars leaving the CVS would shy away from Main Street, head south on Pratt and use Riddle Avenue instead of Main." Poland is an East Riddle Avenue resident.

In the last four years, traffic volume on Riddle Avenue has increased by 80 percent, according to City Engineer Mark Bowen. Roughly 2,700 vehicles use the road daily, he said.

Petros, however, contends that Poland's "hypothesis will prove unfounded."

"I'm not an expert on traffic, but I don't see any reason to suspect motorists wouldn't use Main Street," he said. "It's called 'Main Street' because it is the major avenue accommodating traffic flow."

Retail Today is performing a detailed traffic study, Petros said.

Poland also voiced concern that lights from the CVS parking lot would invade adjacent homes. Petros, however, said the lights would have a reflector that directs 90 percent of their output "directly down." "There's not a lot of spillover with the lights we would install," he said. "They are very efficient."

Dino DeThomas, CVS's vice-president of real estate, has emphasized that his company "sincerely aims to be a good neighbor and evaluate any concerns raised by residents."

DeThomas also said the new store would bring as many 15 new jobs to the city. The downtown Revco would be closed; the store near Giant Eagle on East Main Street would remain open, at least temporarily, he said.

Council must approve the rezoning request and a parking plan by Lan if the company's bid is to revisit the Planning Commission, which failed last month to grant the proposal a conceptual approval. The commission has the power to approve the company's final detailed site plan.

The proposal includes three variance requests which must be approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals. In addition, it must gain approval of the city's Design Review Committee.

"The proposal definitely has a long way to go," Miller said. "But I

think it can work."

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