Photo courtesy of The Chronicle
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. Before the vote, several community members spoke out against the proposition in a public hearing.
Some residents, like Aliza Weidenbaum, believe that a new commercial building would contradict the city’s commitment to sustainability.
“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 the environmental concerns at the conclusion 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 says that a new shopping center could bring in much-needed jobs and tax revenue.
“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.”
Some of Oberlin’s small business owners worried that a shopping center would hurt their stores. Council Vice President Linda Slocum is hopeful that the shopping center would fulfill a different market and bring in new visitors to trickle into Oberlin’s downtown.
“I’m hoping too that we can attract more people to come and 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 also brought up the issue of tax revenue, which he hopes this development will bolster. Several shifts on the horizon have Singleton worried, including the potential privatization of the Federal Aviation Administration in Oberlin — currently the city’s largest source of tax revenue — and the possibility of a recession in the coming years.
“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.”
Even without the threat of future financial difficulties, Burgess said that he would have voted to rezone the property. Previously designated for office spaces, he says that the land was always set aside for some kind of development.
Outside of City Council hearings, Burgess says that the residents he’s spoken with are largely 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 development 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.”