LORAIN — City Council gave its stamp of approval Monday night to rezone land on Oak Point Road, making way for a new Mercy Health medical facility, despite strong opposition from residents living in the area.
Following a public hearing, the 11-member body voted 7-4 to switch the parcel’s zoning from residential to B-1A, allowing for a business, which Mayor Chase Ritenauer has said may be more attractive for opponents who were against the B-1 rezoning proposal as it would restrict certain businesses in the area such as retail.
“I think it’s very clear in our zoning code that a B-1A really does serve as a transition from a residential to a business district,” he said Monday. “I just want to look at it from the general welfare of the community as a whole. I hear from people that we need jobs and this certainly brings that. It’s economic development with or biggest employer in the community.”
The proposal was first approved by the Planning Commission on Oct. 4 and considered the rezoning of the property from R-1A to B-1 General Business. However, Sandra Bitar, the owner of the property, who is donating it to Mercy, rescinded her application to rezone the property Nov. 20 after public outcry in a public hearing Nov. 13.
She then sent another proposal to rezone the property to B-1A in mid-December, which the planning commission approved Jan. 3.
Many residents who spoke at the hearing said they were in favor of a new medical facility in Lorain, just not at that location.
“It’s not that we don’t want Mercy hospital,” Oak Point Road resident Kristyne McDougle said. “We just think there’s a better place for it. There are places on the east side, south side or central Lorain. I grew up on the east side. I love Lorain. I want to die in Lorain. I just don’t think this is the place for a medical center.”
Many residents cited increased traffic flow as a concern in addition to residents in other parts of the city heading east to places like Avon for medical care rather than traveling to Oak Point Road.
Councilman Angel Arroyo, D-6th Ward, said he was initially against the proposal, wanting the facility to possibly be in South Lorain, which he represents. However, he changed his mind.
“If we approve this tonight, I have to think about how the income of a $40,000, $50,000 or $60,000 job is going to affect my ward,” he said, citing roads that have seen decades of neglect. “I know this is going to frustrate some people, but that’s what’s making me change my vote.”
In other Council news
A measure to allow public comment periods at regular meetings was narrowly defeated by a one-vote margin.
Currently, residents are only allowed to speak at committee meetings, and the motion initially appeared to pass. But shortly after the vote was tallied, Councilwoman JoAnne Moon, D-5th Ward, motioned to revisit the vote, saying she hit the wrong button.
Councilman Josh Thornsberry, D-8th Ward, who introduced the legislation, supported her motion and said, “As much as it pains me because I’ve been working for three years to try and get this passed, I don’t think I want to get it passed because someone made a mistake.”
Moon changed her vote causing the decision to flip and one resident said, “This is a joke.”
Councilwoman Mary Springowski, D-at large, agreed, saying it was “absolutely asinine” while walking out of the room.
Council also approved two collective bargaining agreements — one for firefighters and another for police.
Both included wage increases. Lorain firefighters will see a 1 percent increase in both 2018 and 2019, while police officers will only see a 1 percent increase in 2018. Instead, their contract will reopen for negotiation in 2019.
Both also included insurance increases. Family coverage for both unions went from $154 a month to $205 a month in addition to removing a $15 discount for non-tobacco use and a $15 discount for completing a physical. Single coverage went from $71 a month to $80, and also removed two $7.50 discounts for non-tobacco use and completion of a physical.