NORTH CANTON − A city appeals board has rejected a plea to scuttle the construction of a Meijer supercenter and gas station on North Main Street.
Akron-based Albrecht Inc., which owns the plaza across the street from the Meijer site and is affiliated with Acme Fresh Market, wanted the North Canton Zoning and Building Standards Board of Appeals to reject the city Planning Commission’s earlier approval of the project and a conditional use permit for the gas station.
But after a more than three-hour hearing Monday at the North Canton Civic Center, the appeals board voted 5-0 to affirm the commission’s decisions.
Meijer plans to build a supercenter and gas station on the former Kmart property, which the city bought in 2020 through its Community Improvement Corp. Meijer in October 2021 agreed to buy 16 acres of the property as part of a purchase agreement with the city.
Albrecht and Acme are unhappy that the city has courted a rival company.
“Great day for the city. Time to move forward,” said Patrick DeOrio, the city’s director of administration. The board’s decision is “pro-schools, pro-safety forces and pro-consumer.”
More:Meijer Supercenter planned for vacant Kmart property in North Canton
More:Acme doubles down to stop North Canton Meijer project, opposes gas station
What will happen next in Acme-North Canton dispute?
Christopher Swing, the attorney for Albrecht Inc., declined to comment about the board’s ruling. He would not say if his client would appeal the board’s decision to Stark County Common Pleas Court.
Albrecht, a commercial real estate firm, owns the Acme Fresh Market property at 1474 N. Main St., which is across the street from the Meijer site.
During the hearing, Swing said Meijer failed to show it had met all the requirements of the zoning code.
“For that reason, the Planning Commission decision must be reversed,” Swing said. “The approval was illegal and invalid.”
Swing made numerous arguments against the approval, including not initially requiring a traffic impact study and stormwater development study, the gas station not being compatible with the zoning code’s call for a walkable environment, and Meijer could drive some of its competitors in North Canton out of business resulting in abandoned, dilapidated buildings.
The city’s attorney Majeed Makhlouf said Albrecht had filed the appeal to protect Acme Fresh Market from competition from a Meijer store as long as possible.
Albrecht “is trying to misuse the city’s zoning process to interfere in a contractual relationship between Meijer and the city,” Makhlouf said. “It’s not up to this board to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.”
He accused Swing of trying to “kill a project by delay.”
Swing said his client was a longstanding taxpayer in the city entitled to weigh in on another party’s compliance with the zoning code.
“It’s not about the economics,” Swing said.
The city’s attorney called several witnesses to testify before the board, including Chris Jones, a real estate manager for Meijer.
“We have the right to develop the property for a retail project,” Jones testified, adding that Meijer met all the requirements. “We checked all the boxes. … Our application met the city’s requirements to be heard.”
North Canton Director of Permits Martin VanGundy testified that the city had seven public meetings to discuss the Meijer project, and that city officials did not rush their reviews, as Swing had claimed.
Clint Zollinger, the chairman of the city board of zoning appeals and a workers’ compensation attorney, articulated the reasons for his vote. The other four members did not comment.
Zollinger rejected all of Swing’s arguments. He agreed with the city’s argument that Albrecht could not use the city’s zoning review process with the intent of stopping a competitor of Acme’s from moving into its neighborhood. And Zollinger agreed that Meijer was not required, as Swing claimed, to submit a host of studies before an earlier Planning Commission hearing.
The North Main Street site has environmental issues
Jim Smith, an environmental consultant retained by Meijer, testified that the site has typical contaminants found at a brownfield site.
It “certainly has (environmental) issues … but I’ve seen nothing that can’t be done (to address the issues),” he said.
Under cross examination by Swing, Smith said that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s review of the environmental remediation plan was not complete. He confirmed the site was a strip mine before 1968. After that, the Hoover Co. had disposed of plating rinse and solvent waste from degreasing operations at the site. Then the property was used as an unlicensed neighborhood dump.
Swing asked what would happen if Meijer wanted to build a playground by its supermarket. Smith said state regulations would require Meijer to meet more stringent residential standards in cleaning up the site. The standards for commercial use are less stringent.
“So it’s not going to be safe enough to have a playground or potable drinking water but it’s going to be safe enough for people to shop?” Swing said.
Smith said, “Yes, that’s how the process works.”
Gregory Soltis, a senior designer for the architecture firm RDL in Cleveland, testified for the city in a slide presentation that the Meijer site was compatible with the character of the surrounding areas in terms of lot size, use and walkability. And the intent of the zoning code was never meant to impose the walkability of the center of town on sites a few miles to the north.
“There’s a sidewalk there (by the Meijer site). It’s walkable,” he said.
Reach Robert at email@example.com. Twitter: @rwangREP.