City Council, Community Members to Deliberate Housing, Retail Development on SR 58


Abe Frato

Land owned by Omega Health Services, LLC could be rezoned for development.

This past Monday, Oberlin City Council scheduled a public hearing for June 5 at 6 p.m. to consider a recommendation from the City Planning Commission to rezone a parcel of land along State Route 58, directly north of the retail complex that includes the Walmart Supercenter — from a Business, Commercial, and Retail District into a Planned Development District.

The property was annexed, but not rezoned, into the City in 2020 to enable a connection to Oberlin’s sanitary sewer system. If the proposed amendment to the zone map is approved, it will enable the developer of the property to build a wide range of mixed-income, multi-family housing. The current proposal lists “120 [mixed-income] multifamily apartment units, 144 townhouse units, a clubhouse for development residents’ use, [two] recovery homes, and retail/office spaces,” as well as “a dog park, community gardens, a play area and a bike path.” For a mixeduse residential and commercial development, a PDD is the only appropriate designation under the Oberlin zoning code.

“A Planned Development District is a flexible district that allows for mixed uses, allows for more creative arrangements of buildings and lot sizes,” Oberlin Director of Planning and Development Carrie Porter said. “And so it’s kind of a case-by case basis zoning. They’re going to do this development plan, and the development plan will be very detailed, and when that gets approved, that’s exactly what they have to build.”

Existing development on the property, which is owned by Omega Health Services, includes The Alpha House, a “faith based drug and alcohol recovery program … helping men and women that struggle with addiction from intake through re-entry.” Organizational Development Director at Omega Health Services Lee Partee offered insight into the goals behind the application to construct additional housing on the property.

“With the ongoing housing supply shortage facing many communities in Ohio and beyond, we were compelled to explore how we might be a part of the solution,” Partee wrote in an email to the Review. “We have approached the City of Oberlin with some ideas and to gain their input and perspective as those ideas continue to develop, the first step being proper zoning for our property since our annexation.”

The development would aid graduates of The Alpha House in transitioning out of recovery housing and into an apartment within a pre-existing community. However, the benefit former residents of The Alpha House would derive from the development is just one component of its overarching purpose.

“Very few houses seem to come up for sale at any one time, so people scramble when something does come up for sale,” Porter said. “It’s opening up more choices for sure — for probably almost everybody. The housing market study said we needed housing of all types, for all types of incomes and demographics. I would say this could satisfy a lot of different housing needs.”

In response to a 2014 proposal to develop affordable housing on the Green Acres Project, the City commissioned a survey to determine whether Oberlin residents felt there was a need for such housing within City limits. That survey, the 2017 Oberlin Comprehensive Housing Market Study and Needs Analysis, identified an overwhelming need for more housing across all income brackets.

According to the community survey, “88 [percent] of survey respondents strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that ‘we need to expand housing choices’ in the City. ‘A range of housing options for people in different stages of life’ was also ‘very important’ to 81.2 percent of survey respondents.”

The proposal for the development on SR 58 appears to account for many of the housing needs cited by survey respondents. The planned 144 townhouse units will be sold at market rate. However, the 120 multi-family apartment units are intended as tax-credit housing — a status that requires the developer to apply for an allocation of federally funded housing tax credits through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which would mitigate the costs of renting the apartments out at an affordable, slightly below market rate to potential tenants. According to Robert Chordar, president of TC Architects, these multi-family apartments will have accessible living units on the first floors.

“By code, we’re required to have five percent accessible units that are designed already into a home — we also made these so they’re adaptable,” Chordar said, in reference to the units on the first floors of the multi-family housing. “So any of these could be converted at any point in time.”

Porter indicated that a wide range of current or prospective Oberlin residents, especially vulnerable populations like seniors, could stand to benefit from increased availability of such housing.

“I think we have a lot of seniors that are still in their single family homes [who] would like to live somewhere more maintenance-free and probably more accessible,” Porter said. “I would see that seniors would take advantage of this, especially the first-floor units, … and I think families — especially young families. If you want to live in Oberlin, it’s hard to find a place that’s rental, that’s affordable. So it would be nice to have housing that you could rent and try Oberlin out and then look for a house.”

Porter also addressed the perception that the housing development would be isolated from the rest of the City.

“We’re adding the bicycle pedestrian trail up and down [State Route] 58 to connect the older part of the city there at Hamilton Street, where the sidewalks kind of end, with U.S. [Route] 20,” Porter said. “I think visually, with having that path going down 58 to connect things, people will start to see it as, ‘It’s all Oberlin.’ I think for this development, they see it as a plus that it’s gonna be next to Walmart and ALDI, and some of the commercial stuff that’s in the plaza — Wendy’s, as jobs. You can walk to your job; you can get groceries without having a car.”