After more than a year, plans for the $5 million redevelopment of the Marhofer Chevrolet dealership in Stow are back before the city, beginning with a request to rezone three residential properties on Thorndale Avenue.
The city's planning commission recently approved in a 4-1 vote the request by owner Ron Marhofer to rezone 1941, 1947 and 1955 Thorndale Avenue from R-3 Residential to C-3 Commercial Retail. The properties, with single family dwellings, are on the north side of Thorndale Avenue, east of the dealership. They total about 1.3 acres.
The rezoning request will go before City Council's planning committee tonight.
Commission member David Kohlmeier cast the dissenting vote, saying that while he liked the proposed improvements to the location, he believed it was "intruding" into the residential area.
Last year, Marhofer announced plans to expand his dealership, which has been in Stow since 1919, with a new building set back farther from its present location. This past January, legislation permitting car sales/rentals as conditional uses in C-3 Community Retail and C-4 General Business zoning districts was approved by council.
The plans would also call for the vacating of Yukon Road, which runs alongside the dealership and connects Darrow and Kent roads.
According to attorney John Slagter of Buckingham, Doolittle and Burroughs LLP, representing Marhofer, the rezoning request is "consistent with objectives" in the city's Comprehensive Plan.
Stow Planning Director Rob Kurtz told the commission the planning staff supports the rezoning request, saying it, too, believes the plan is compatible with the Comprehensive Plan.
But many neighbors disagree, saying the proposal would decrease their property values, therefore does not meet the requirement that any development has to minimize its impact on neighboring residential areas.
Before testimony on the request could begin, attorney Michael Gordon, representing the Burleys who live at 1969 Thorndale Ave., objected to the request, claiming proper procedure was not followed. He said the application was "defective" as it lacked required current information such as a statement as to how it would benefit the city and how it related to the Comprehensive Plan.
After Kurtz told the commission the application was OK with the legal department, chair Chris Brauer stated the commission would move forward and make a decision that night.
Slagter acknowledged the opposition to the request, saying "In making the decision, I understand it's a difficult one . . . it's their homes and I appreciate that, but it's also Marhofer's home for the business."
He noted the plan would allow more green space, the addition of sidewalks and more buffer between the commercial and the residential areas.
Marhofer, a Streetsboro resident, said he has "spent a lot of time and energy" on the plan and had looked at alternate sites. He noted General Motors cannot force the size of his dealership but it could impact future allotments of vehicles from GM. He added he is already 25 spaces short of GM's recommendations.
While the new building is under construction, Marhofer said he would keep the dealership open. With 80 to 90 cars per day coming for service, "to shut down nine months would be chaotic."
Architect Mark Ferguson said new drives would be safer and prevent traffic from test drives going onto Thorndale. He added the buffer would be shrubbery, trees and a private fence.
He also stated the vacating of Yukon was necessary because of utilities on the street that would be difficult and expensive to reroute.
Neighboring resident Doug Burley told the commission he supported redevelopment but not new development or one that would expand up a residential street. He added he knew the dealership was there when he purchased his home, but he "didn't know a car dealership would be extended to one lot away."
Bud and Terry May, residents at 3425 Margaret Ave., have lived at that address for 41 years and both offered objections to the rezoning request.
Terry May told the commission the decision "should not be made at the cost of our neighborhood," adding a real estate agent has told them property values will decrease with the rezoning. She suggested a compromise of leaving 1955 Thorndale as residential, creating a buffer between the business and residences.
Bud May asked how this could happen when so many are against it. "Think about it very carefully on what you're going to do," he told the commission members.
Before the vote was taken, Brauer said it is "our job to determine if it's good for the city and the residents . . . it's not an easy decision."
Commission member Pete Mihelik told the residents he had been involved with the commission for 28 years and sometimes it's made "a big issue but when it happens, it's not a big deal."
He added that he thinks "it's not going to be as bad as you think it is."