Fairlawn,Copley, OH. Two Towns In Legal Battle Over Wal-Mart Move
Two neighboring communities in Ohio are locked in a nasty legal battle over a discount chain store. The relocation of an existing Wal-Mart has had these two communities at each other's throats for years.
In the week of December 20, 2008, the headline in the Akron Beacon Journal read: "There will be no Wal-Mart Superstore Built In Copley."
Representatives of LRC Development began investigating in 2006 the possibility of putting a Wal-Mart Superstore on a vacant parcel of land along Rothrock Road in Copley. The city's Administrator claimed at the time that Copley officials learned of the development when they were invited to a meeting with the Summit County, Ohio engineer and officials in neighboring Fairlawn. The meeting was called to talk about infrastructure improvements required for the development to proceed.
The problem, however, was that there was an existing Wal-Mart discount store in Fairlawn. Residents in the Montrose-area of Fairlawn were upset over what might happen across the road in Copley. In April of 2008, Fairlawn residents met to talk about a rumored Wal-Mart superstore on vacant land on Rothrock Road. The Mayor of Fairlawn, Bill Roth, suggested to homeowners who live in the Rosemont Ridge, Enclave, Rothrock Place and Copley Place subdivisions, that they might have to take action to turn their roads into cul-de-sacs -- a sort of 'circle the wagons' approach to keep cars from cutting through their streets on the proposed Wal-Mart superstore.
The commercially zoned land the Wal-Mart developer was eyeing is located just over the Fairlawn border in Copley Township. A superstore in Copley would cause the existing Wal-Mart discount store one mile away to close. That store is 110,000 s.f. -- the size of some of Wal-Mart's smaller superstore formats. Mayor Roth admitted that his preference was to have Wal-Mart expand its Fairlawn store at the Rosemont shopping center on West Market Street. "They have the room if they want to do it," Mayor Roth said. "They acknowledge that they could expand and stay on the site. And they acknowledge there is great traffic (for commerce) on West Market Street."
In December of 2008, Wal-Mart officials announced that the company was going to stay in Fairlawn after all, and instead of building a new store a mile away in Copley, they would spend $800,000 to renovate their Fairlawn store.
But by September of 2010, Wal-Mart had changed its mind again -- and announced that it was going back to its first plan to build a superstore in Copley. Residents opposed to the Wal-Mart project wrote to Sprawl-Busters:
"The Citizens For a Better Montrose was recently formed by 6 shareholders of the Enclave Cooperative Housing Association as a response to the proposed development of a 40-acre site across the street for a Wal-Mart Superstore, a Sam's Club and a gas station. We have increased in numbers to over 30 residents in less than a week and
are moving forward in recruiting new neighbors and businesses."
"The proposed development is in a isolated corner of rural Copley township between an interstate highway, the city of Fairlawn and a state highway. There already is a
Wal-Mart and Sam's Club on this state highway in a well-developed shopping area less than two miles away... The proposed development, including a 24/7 gas station, built next to a wetland, will be built off a two lane road in an already congested area of homes and condominiums with no easy access to this proposed shopping area. We have all the normal concerns about having a Wal-Mart in the area which will be multiplied in effect as it abuts a residential community of 104 condominiums, a 300+ unit up-scale apartment community and about two hundred $300,000 -$700,000 homes."
"We will have to cul-de sac our street to prevent it from being used as a shortcut to the stores to forestall a huge increase in car and truck traffic on one side of condo complex, leaving, but one side road to get to the Wal-Mart. The regional traffic impact will be severe and very expensive to rectify."
"Two decades ago Fairlawn annexed the land where the three residential developments are and, allegedly, there has been a real ill feeling towards the city since this occurred by some of the Copley township trustees -- and this project is viewed as revenge for annexing the land from the township by many."
On December 22, 2010, Sprawl-Busters reported that the City Council in Fairlawn had voted to close off Rosemont Boulevard, limiting access to Rothrock Road and the proposed new Wal-Mart. Mayor Roth told the Beacon Journal the move was designed to protect Fairlawn homeowners from the big box traffic. Closing Rosemont at Rothrock Road will prevent shoppers from cutting through the Montrose neighborhood on their journey to cheap underwear.
The closure of Rosemont was recommended by the Fairlawn Planning Commission, based on a petition from property owners asking that they be protected from the huge spike in traffic projected. The Summit county engineer produced a report recommending that the Wal-Mart project be disapproved.
The developer publicly scolded Fairlawn officials for considering the closure of Rothrock Road, and labeled that a "misguided effort to block the project" and a "hazard to emergency medical, police and fire services which protect Copley Township."
A group called the Fairway Park Properties, LLC, owners of an apartment complex along Rothrock Road, filed a lawsuit in October, 2008, charging that the proposed location of the superstore would create a nuisance and lower property values. It asked the court to declare the maximum size of a retail building in Copley's C-3 (Commercial) zone be limited to 82,544 square feet, and that retailers be limited to 45,000 square feet. The suit also asked the court to declare that developments with retailers occupying an average of 141,706 square feet must be located in an area zoned C-4.
According to the lawsuit, a 283,411-square-foot double-occupancy shopping center, consisting of 156,104- and 127,307-square-foot retailers, was proposed for the Copley site. The second anchor besides Wal-Mart was not named at the time, but it was learned later that it would be a Sam's Club.
This Copley/Fairlawn conflict is still raging today, five years after the controversy first surfaced. Copley officials revealed this week that they have gone to court for a temporary restraining order to prevent Fairlawn from closing off the part of Rothrock Road within the city's border. Last summer the court threw out two earlier requests by Copley officials to restrain Fairlawn officials. After the court sided with them, Fairlawn officials erected temporary barriers to shut off portions of the road, but still allow access for emergency vehicles.
What you can do: Readers are urged to email Copley Trustee Dale Panovich, the President of the Board of Trustees at: email@example.com, with the following message:
"Dear President Panovich,
It's a pretty sad state of affairs when a neighboring town starts to close off residential streets to protect their residents from the traffic impacts of a huge retail project that was stolen away from the neighboring town to begin with.
Wal-Mart and Mr. Levey have nicely played Fairlawn off of Copley -- for no valid reason. Wal-Mart is playing musical chairs with Copley and Fairlawn. But when the music stops, one of the communities is going to lose a seat. This project has been described as 'just a change of parking lots.'
The proposed Wal-Mart move just one mile down the road to a larger location made little sense in 2008, and makes little sense today. This proposal adds no new value economically, since the only new aspect is the grocery store component -- and your area is not short of grocery stores. You have 12 Wal-Marts within 20 miles of Copley, including a supercenter 5 miles away in Wadsworth.
Copley should reject this leapfrog Wal-Mart so your community can plan for the future, and not be swamped with suburban sprawl. Wal-Mart today is building 80,000 s.f. superstores -- so the Fairlawn store is already big enough for a grocery component.
Your two communities should sit down together and plan on a regional basis for your future retail needs, instead of trying to steal each other's malls. The Fairlawn store can serve as the supercenter for your communities, avoiding the waste of consuming more land with little economic benefit to show for it. It's time for Copley and Fairlawn to do some mediation, and serious regional planning, instead of looking foolish fighting it out in court."