Here are my notes from the meetings this week:
2015 budget – I held a meeting of the Finance Committee on Monday to discuss the 2015 budget and formulate a plan for its passage. The budget is a work in process, and I anticipate council playing a more active role in shaping it than in previous years. Currently, we do not have final figures for 2014′s revenue or expenditures. Without those numbers, we cannot project the 2015 numbers. Consequently, I will not begin active budget discussions within the Finance Committee until those numbers are finalized, in early February. We have a March 31 deadline, under state law, to pass the budget.
Storm water studies – Council approved two contracts with consultants regarding storm water issues in affected areas of Stow. First, we will pay $84,970 to a consultant to gather data and examine existing infrastructure in the Wetmore Park area. In the May storms, this area (particularly Silver Lake Towers and Oak Road) was badly hit. Council also approved a $46,990 contract for a consultant to design storm water infrastructure in the Greentree/Leewood area. Again, many residents on these streets sustained severe damage in May.
Meijer follow-up – Some residents addressed council regarding our approval of the Meijer store at the Stow-Kent Shopping Center. They disapproved of our action for one or both of the following reasons: 1) We don’t need another big box/grocery store. 2) The previous plan to build apartments was more appealing. I don’t disagree with either of those opinions, but I disagree with the implication that city council or the mayor acted inappropriately. City council’s job, when approving plans like these, is not to tell a property owner what a “better” use of its land is. We simply respond to private investment and assess the appropriateness under our zoning code. Furthermore, our option was not between a) Meijer and b) the apartments. Rather, it was between a) Meijer and b) the unknown. We had no assurances that the apartment plan was back “on” if we rejected Meijer. In doing so, Stow might have rejected its only opportunity to fill that shopping center. I am not saying the current plans are ideal, but I am saying that the city did the best it could in solving the Stow-Kent Shopping Center problem, given the hand it was dealt.
Springdale bike lanes – I’m a runner, and I live near Hudson Drive. So, obviously, I use the Hike and Bike Trail quite a bit. One thing I have noticed over the years is how dangerous the trail becomes on Springdale Road, which is a narrow, two-lane road, without bike lanes or even a sidewalk. Under these circumstances, I have seen mothers push strollers as cars zip by. I have seen joggers run through ditches to avoid traffic. I have pushed our engineering department to seek grant money to rectify this problem, and city engineer Jim McCleary has been supportive. I am very pleased to announce that, last night, council approved a contract for 80% state funding of the $333,150 project.
House Bill 5 – There has been a lot of chatter about House Bill 5 among people working for municipal governments. This is the state legislation that will cause city tax policies to be identical in almost every regard. It’s good for business, because tax preparation will be simpler. Some cities stand to lose money because there will be permitted a loss carry-forward, which some do not permit. Stow, meanwhile, will be only minimally affected, according to our finance director John Baranek, with the main change being our “casual entrance” threshold will be increased from 12 days to 20 days.
- Stow’s leaf program has concluded. The service department vehicles will now be outfitted for snow removal.
- I made a motion last night to replace a police officer who retired. The motion passed unanimously.
- Council will meet next on January 3 for its annual organizational matters. The next regular meeting is January 8.
Some weeks, we are light on legislation. Not this week. Council met for a total of 6.5 hours this week to discuss various matters in our city. Here are my notes:
Meijer – Months ago, the owners of Stow-Kent Shopping Center presented Stow City Council with plans to redevelop the property with a mixed-use (i.e. residential/retail) plan. This week, the owners shifted, and requested instead that council permit a Meijer grocery store to be built on the property, along with a gas station and convenience store. Last night, council approved the plan by a 6-0 vote.
Originally developed in 1958, Stow-Kent Shopping Center has been an eyesore for many years. Council and the administration have put a lot of effort into getting the old replaced with new. Meijer is a well-respected chain and will invest $20 million in Stow, bringing 270 employees (many of which are well-paid union jobs).
I expressed concern on Monday, however, that Meijer’s arrival will cause the departure of one of the several grocery stores (Giant Eagle, Acme) or department stores (Target) when those stores’ leases expire–thus, leaving us with another hole to fill. After some thought, I concluded that it is not government’s role to limit competition or be a protectionist. Meijer is a good fit in that location, and its arrival is good for Stow’s income tax base and Stow’s shoppers. So I voted “yes.”
Lt. Snavely – A lot of people around town are praying for one of Stow’s finest officers, Lt. Brian Snavely, who was injured on Route 8 during last week’s snow storms. He is now recovering from serious, but not life-threatening injuries.
Cluster development – Council rejected, by a 3-4 vote, a cluster development at the corner of Leewood and Graham roads, which was fiercely opposed by neighbors. Cluster developments are allowed only with 3 acres, and this parcel had just under 2 acres. Also, density is limited to 2 houses per acre. The owner of this 2-acre property was seeking 5 houses. To me, the density variance of 25% was excessive. I offered an amendment to grant the owner one variance (to build a cluster development) but not the other (relating to density). That amendment didn’t carry.
Other items -
Our leaf pickup teams are about 4 days behind schedule because of the snow. With warmer temperatures coming, they likely will be able to catch up.
We approved the hiring of a 14th dispatcher. We currently have 13, and are authorized for 15.
Council approved the increase of fines for parking violations from $15 to $25. I was not satisfied with the justification for that increase, so I voted no, along with Brian Lowdermilk.
Council will meet next on December 8, with a meeting of the Finance Committee. On that date, we will analyze the 2015 budget.