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Back to the drawing board for E&J Electric’s expansion plan?

Proposal for apartments above storage units
Solon City Council members Brad Kunkel and Casey Grover listen to discussion during a Nov. 5 meeting. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– “We’ve got a disagreement,” said City Attorney Jim Martinek.
“But we disagree on what, though?” asked E&J Electric owner John Schmidt.
Apparently, what constitutes a commercial garage.
Schmidt went before the Solon City Council Nov. 5, seeking input on his concept plan to combine storage for his business with upper-level apartments adjacent to the E&J Electric location on East Main Street.
He came away from the meeting uncertain.
“I have no clue what I’m supposed to do next,” Schmidt told council members.
Versions of the concept plan had been presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) in August and October for its review, and in both instances, commission members were hesitant to give a thumbs up.
At the Aug. 26 session, P&Z members noted concerns about access for the apartments and questions regarding fire safety. They also suggested duplexes as a more suitable use for the property.
In October, Schmidt brought a scaled-back version featuring only a single structure. Again, the P&Z suggested duplexes and discussed the whether the commercial storage was an allowed use for the lot, which is zoned general commercial (C-G).
But Schmidt is not interested in rezoning the land.
“The only thing I really need is a shop space,” Schmidt said.
Rezoning the parcel would take a lot of time and money, he said, indicating the commercial zoning was already in place for his business.
“It seemed like a suitable use for the area,” he said. “And I think this is a much better way to disguise that shop space than me just having a big shop up there.”
Schmidt feels the use is allowed, but the city has reservations.
City Administrator Cami Rasmussen said she and Martinek had some question whether the commercial garages fit the definition of a store or shop, and that’s why P&Z was asked to look it over.
City Engineer Dave Schechinger, in a review of the concept plan, indicated that storage garages are not a permitted use in the C-G district, although they are allowed under the city’s C-H district.
Apartments are an allowed use in the C-G district.
“What I’m trying to do here is make a nice transition from residential to commercial,” Schmidt said.
The upper level apartments would be at street level on the east edge, and Schmidt said he would try as much as possible to blend the exteriors in with their surroundings. A row of trees has been planted between the duplexes in Windmill Estates and Schmidt’s lot to serve as a buffer.
In the revised concept plan, Schmidt proposed five apartments, with parking available off-street below the apartments next to the commercial-grade storage units.
“It seemed like it would have the least amount of impact on the development, and that’s what I was looking for,” Schmidt said.
Neighbors nearby said they were especially opposed to rental units and generally opposed to any kind of development, having been told it would remain green space.
“It’s going to just be a disaster in our area, people coming and going,” said Patty Meehan, a resident of River Birch Run. “I mean, it won’t be safe for the school children to even walk down the hill.”
She suggested the project would ruin the neighborhood and its residential property values, as well as increase traffic.
“We want to keep it like we assumed it would be when we bought the area,” Meehan said.
Mayor Steve Stange pointed out that while there is a question about the proposed use, the current commercial zoning would allow Schmidt to place any number of retail business types below apartments on the property.
“There could be more onerous uses than what’s be proposed now,” added Martinek.
“You don’t want apartments,” Stange told the neighbors, “but what I’m telling you is that we can’t stop that, if it falls within the code.”
Stange cut off discussion on the agenda item after determining that Schmidt was not interested in rezoning the area for duplexes, leaving Schmidt wondering about his next step.
Rasmussen and Martinek indicated that since only a concept plan had been submitted, Schmidt would have to make formal application to the P&Z with a site plan. The P&Z has taken the position that the commercial garages are not a permitted use, Martinek said, but until an application is made no formal decision can be made.
“I guess we need to see what’s submitted before we start issuing opinions,” Martinek said.

In other business, council members began discussions regarding the city’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
Rasmussen provided council members with a list of proposed major projects and asked them to review the list, rank items by importance, and identify potential funding sources.
Council members also approved a utility forgiveness request for Seth Smith at 1008 Wood Lilly Road, approved the first reading of ordinances establishing connection fees for the city’s utility services, and approved the final payment for the Central Business District improvement project.