CUYAHOGA FALLS -- In a split vote, City Council approved on March 27 dividing up a property on Hunter Parkway into six parcels that can be sold individually to allow for owner-occupied units.
But not until nine of the 11 members of Council met in executive session.
It was an unusual evening when a member of Council balked at meeting behind closed doors with the law director to discuss the issue. After a motion was made by Vic Pallotta (R-3) to dissolve into executive session to "discuss pending litigation," and that motion was seconded by Russ Iona (R-8), Ward 7 Councilman Jerry James (D) said he saw no need for it.
On March 20, when asked what could happen if Council denied Karam's application, Law Director Russell Balthis said he felt more comfortable answering the question in executive session or privately. James said he had since talked to Balthis privately about the issue and added he was "pretty sure the majority" of Council had done so, too.
President Mary Ellen Pyke (R-2) said in her 20 years on Council, the legislative body has never denied an executive session requested by the administration. When the vote on going into executive session was taken, the motion passed 6-5. Two members; however, Carol Klinger (R-at large) and Michael Brillhart (D-5), remained in council chambers and did not leave with the others.
Brillhart and Klinger were among those who voted against going into executive session, along with Mary Nichols-Rhodes (D-4), Paul Colavecchio (D-at large) and James. Vince Rubino (D-1), Vic Pallotta (R-3), Adam Miller (R-6), Russ Iona (R-8), Jeff Iula (R-at large) and Pyke voted in favor of it.
Returning from a 20-minute executive session, and with no one making any remarks, Council adopted the ordinance to authorize and approve the Hunter Parkway subdivision by a vote of 6-5 with Pyke, Pallotta, Nichols-Rhodes, Miller, James and Iona voting yes, and Rubino, Brillhart, Colavecchio, Iula and Klinger voting no.
Plans submitted by developer Danny Karam to subdivide 333 E. Bath Road and build six one-story condos side-by-side and grouped in threes, each with its own driveway on Hunter Parkway, were approved by the city's planning commission on Feb. 22. City Council discussed legislation to authorize the subdivision on March 6, tabled a vote on it on March 13, and discussed it further on March 20.
Throughout the process, Brillhart said he was not in favor of the subdivision, which would be in his ward, because he had received a lot of calls from constituents opposing it because of traffic and safety concerns. Iona said the subdivision met all city zoning and development standards.
Board President Pyke said she voted for the subdivision because it was approved by the planning commission. She said her "heart goes out" to the residents opposed to the development, but she doesn't believe six more homes will cause a noticeable difference in this area where heavy traffic is already an issue.
On the other side, Iula said he voted against the subdivision because so many citizens voiced their opposition. "I wanted to stand behind the residents," he said. While he said he'd hoped for less units on the site, maybe three, Iula added he is glad to see something being done because "the house and garage there look terrible."
Mayor Don Walters said on March 29 he had signed the legislation but it can't be enacted for 30 days because Council did not pass it by a 2/3 vote or supermajority. He said they needed eight votes to enact the emergency clause.
"It is clear there are concerns, with most being traffic related," Walters said. "I sat and watched the Hunter and Bath intersection at different times of the day to observe traffic flow. The concerns of the public are very important and the parking and speeding issues will be addressed to ensure our safety."
Walters reiterated the ordinance was "only to split the parcels, not approve or deny the project [and] to keep with the spirit of all the surrounding condos as being owner occupied." The project itself does not need council approval, he said.