City Council Rezones Land for Potential Retail Center

The+preliminary+site+plan+for+a+new+shopping+center+at+the+intersection+of+Ohio+State+Route+58+and+U.S.+Route+20+in+Oberlin.+City+Council+voted+to+rezone+the+land+for+commercial+development+at+its+last+public+hearing.

Photo courtesy of The Chronicle

The preliminary site plan for a new shopping center at the intersection of Ohio State Route 58 and U.S. Route 20 in Oberlin. City Council voted to rezone the land for commercial development at its last public hearing.

Last week, Oberlin City Council voted 7–0 to rezone

land at the intersection of Ohio State Route 58 and U.S. Route 20, opening up the plot to be developed into a shopping center by the Carnegie Management and Development Corporation. The vote followed a public hearing, which many community members who spoke against the possibility of a new commercial building.

Residents’ concerns mirrored those raised at two previous meetings on the topic, and included how these plans might contradict the city’s commitment to sustainability. Resident Aliza Weidenbaum spoke out against the rezoning.

“There is no consensus that we need a generic-looking shopping area that is hard to get to,” Weidenbaum said. “We are not ready to give in to the temptation of building another mall, because we can’t be very proud of another mall.”

Councilmember Sharon Pearson responded to some of these concerns at the end of the meeting.

“I personally believe that with this project we can find a balance between economic development and sustainability,” she said. “I trust and believe in the incoming elected officials to be able to hold the developers’ … feet to the fire to make sure that this is sustainable development.”

Councilmember Heather Adelman echoed a sentiment put forth by Councilmember Ronnie Rimbert about prioritizing low-income community members who could benefit from the job opportunities that the shopping center would create.

“I think too often the desires of people who value sustainability are pitted against low-income people,” Adelman said. “That’s often the debate. I think Oberlin needs to look at that. We need more jobs, we need more taxes, and we can do it in a way that is sustainable and smart. Not all development is bad.”

Council Vice President Linda Slocum addressed the concerns of small business owners, who worry that a shopping center could compete with their stores. Slocum believes that the new stores will fulfill different needs, and she hopes that this development could bring more visitors to Oberlin who will trickle into downtown.

“I’m hoping too that we can attract more people to come and — as Mr. Rimbert said — explore our community, and that our downtown businesses can fill a niche that these particular businesses that are going to be located off of a highway are not going to be able to fulfill,” Slocum said.

Councilmember Kelley Singleton brought up the issue of tax revenue, which he hopes this development will help boost. Singleton cited multiple factors which he predicts will lead to city tax issues in the future, including the potential privatization of the Federal Aviation Administration in Oberlin — currently the city’s largest source of tax revenue — the possibility of a recession in the coming years, and the dip in college-aged children in 2025.

“We need tax revenue,” he said. “47 percent of this town is tax-exempt when it comes to property. That’s not sustainable.”

However, Council President Bryan Burgess explained that the development alone wouldn’t ease a tax shortfall.

“There’s no single solution,” he said. “It’s really more of a matter of diversifying our tax revenue.”

Even without predicted tax difficulties, Burgess said that he would have voted to rezone the property. He explained that, although it was previously zoned for office space, the land was always set aside for some kind of development.

Burgess stated that, outside of City Council hearings, he feels that residents have been in favor of the shopping center.

“The overwhelming response that I received is positive,” he said.

Still, residents like Weidenbaum are not convinced that this shopping center is right for Oberlin.

“Oberlin’s financial anxieties or worries about the future aside, I think we can probably agree that the world doesn’t need another shopping mall,” Weidenbaum said. “We can see through the temptation of extra tax money. We don’t want sprawl in the name of profit. Mall jobs are not green jobs. It is responsible of you to be so duly concerned about the budget. But this one proposal is not our only ticket to putting more money in the city budget.”