Opposition to White Pond development plans in Akron renews call for a 'pause'
With a potential vote by Akron City Council looming Monday to sell city land, a group of citizens opposed to a residential and commercial development of a wooded area in the northwest area of the city is renewing its call for a "pause" of the project.
The Save the White Pond group livestreamed a news conference Friday morning at the entrance to the property in question across from FirstEnergy's offices on White Pond Drive asking the council and Mayor Dan Horrigan to halt any further movement on the development until April 30.
Council could vote as early as Monday to sell the 68-acre site for $725,000 to Triton Property Ventures.
The proposal that calls for residential and commercial amenities on the wooded area that has served as unofficial park for residents has been hotly debated for months.
Friday's news conference was held near relatively new, large "No Trespassing" signs that the city installed along a road it constructed back into the property that features wetlands and woods.
What's the latest plan for the White Pond development?
Amid the opposition, the city and developer went back to the drawing board and scaled down the scope of the plans for the property.
Under the revised plans unveiled just this week calls for development on just 29 acres of the property that would include 98 ranch-style homes, 90 townhomes and anywhere from 40 to 50 loft-style apartments. The wetlands would be left untouched.
The space set aside for retail development was also scaled back in half to 30,000 square feet.
Those opposed say the changes still do not address many of their concerns.
White Pond development: White Pond development plan drives wedge between residents, Akron city officials
Concerns of White Pond residents
Julie Caruso, who lives just two blocks away from the proposed development, said the city has never let the residents who will be left to live with the consequences of the development have a real say in what should become of the city-owned site that has been slated for development in the past.
"The good ol' boy politics leaves us feeling hopeless," she said.
Resident Meghan Lugo, one of the leaders of the effort to halt the plan, said the city keeps saying this is a good deal for everyone with new homes and new opportunities.
But Lugo said these so-called new opportunities come at the expense of the environment and also mean more traffic for existing residents to contend with and an additional burden on Akron public schools for the potential additional students who will live in the development.
"There has been no real engagement (with residents) by the city," she said.
Mayor Dan Horrigan's response to White Pond development opponents
Horrigan said earlier this week that any development of this scope should be welcome news in the community.
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan says: Proposed White Pond development is 'best use' for property
“As a city, we must embrace investment and progress. Without that, there can be no future growth for Akron,” Horrigan said. “The reality is that we have steadily lost residents since the 1960s and with that loss comes the loss of jobs, tax base, potential customers for retailers and help covering the cost of much needed infrastructure for our city.”
On Friday, city spokesperson Stephanie Marsh said the decision on the matter rests with the council.
"City Council has a lot of information to consider on the property and ultimately it’s in their hands whether to vote or delay as they evaluate everything they’ve learned," the statement issued on Friday said. "Ultimately they’ll have to make that decision on Monday about whether to take further time or vote.
"From the administration’s side, we still strongly believe this development is the best use of the land and don’t believe a delay is in the city’s best interest at this time."
A few hours later, Akron released a revised development agreement and new preliminary site map without a community center and specific plans for retail space. The new plan also removes development from wetland areas, the city said.
"This results in a smaller development footprint, which will result in less actual residences and, while still allowing for up to 30,000-square-feet in retail, will not require retail," a press release stated.
Wildlife concerns of the White Pond development
Although the property has sparked some environmental concerns, including possible soil contamination from previous uses — the land slated for development was still a popular unofficial spot for hikers and nature lovers.
Such hidden gems like the natural setting off White Pond, Lugo said, is one of those things that makes Akron a "cool" and bit "weird" place to live.
White Pond development opponents: 'Greatly abused piece of land': Neighbors continue to fight White Pond development in Akron
Another concern — aside from the impact on those residents living near by — is the impact on all the critters big and small that call the property home.
The proposal calls for initial work to start within a month and a completion of the estimated $50 to $55 million project bounded by Frank Boulevard, White Pond Drive and Interstate 77 by early as 2026.
University of Akron biology professor Peter Niewiarowski, who lives just a stone's throw away from the development, said he suspects there's a lot more wildlife on the property than just a few bats.
He said it is also likely home to other critical species including turtles, salamanders and frogs and a good number of other wildlife supported by the woods and wetlands.
Niewiarowski said the city needs to halt all movement on the proposal until a full assessment can be completed to determine the impact on wildlife.
Move the slider to see how proposed development will fit the landscape
Craig Webb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Opponents of Akron's White Pond development renew call for 'pause'