LORDSTOWN, Ohio – Legislation to rezone 300 acres of land in the village to accommodate construction of the proposed TJX distribution center moves to a second reading Monday evening, following a public hearing today.
Village Council held the first reading of the legislation to accept the village planning commission’s recommendation to rezone the seven parcels where TJX Companies Inc. wants to build the 1.2-million-square-foot warehouse following a public hearing that lasted about 80 minutes.
About 60 people attended the public hearing and council meeting Saturday, many of whom weighed in on the proposed rezoning. The legislation will go to for a third and final reading Thursday after which council is expected to uphold the planning commission.
Discussion during the hearing and the 25-minute council meeting that followed touched on an array of concerns. They ranged from the impact of the project on neighboring properties and a planned tax abatement to the details of recently approved legislation establishing an August special election date for an expected referendum if Village Council accepts the rezoning recommendation.
Massachusetts-based TJX wants to build the distribution center to serve its HomeGoods chain. The project is estimated to mean an investment of more than $160 million and 1,000 jobs with an annual payroll exceeding $27 million.
Mark Walker (pictured above), senior vice president of real estate for HomeGoods, said at he hearing that his company talking with several entities to accept control of land for a proposed 70-acre buffer on the site that would be held as exempt from future development.
Among the organizaiton s TJX and its consultants have been in touch with are Trumbull County MetroParks and Western Reserve Land Conservancy, he said.
“Certainly between now and Thursday, we can put into writing that we have a 100% intention on giving this land to a third party, taking ourselves out of it, so the benefits can therefore be enjoyed by the community,” Walker said. “We think it’ll make a great campus setting for the entire area.”
Mayor Arno Hill noted that TJX has publicly committed to setting aside money to cover costs not covered by state funding to relocate Hallock Young Road. TJX’s stormwater runoff plan will have to go to the village engineer to ensure any issues are addressed, he added
“We take stormwater runoff very seriously,” Walker said. TJX has engaged MS Consultants Inc., Youngstown, to do the stormwater designs and work with the village’s engineering firm to make sure everything is completed properly. The company also agreed to set aside area for a berm as well as a swale.
Walker offered assurances that the distribution center’s fire suppression system would be state-of-the-art, but if an additional water tower is needed, TJX would pay for that and not the village.
Mayor Arno Hill, who supports the rezoning, said TJX has gone “above and beyond” to cooperate with the village and address any concerns.
Village residents in opposition to the rezoning or other aspects of the project raised various objections, including the need to rezone residential property when industrial property already exists in the village.
“This is not a TJX issue. This is not a jobs issue. This is a zoning issue,” Kathy Dickson said.
“We bought our property knowing that we had residential property around us. That’s why we bought here,” she continued. “There’s plenty of property on the other side of the turnpike that would suit this company. We wouldn’t be dealing with buffers. We wouldn’t be dealing with water, we wouldn’t be dealing with any of these issues.”
Among the concerns Martin Jones raised was the possibility that TJX would have to blast the bedrock at the site to build the distribution center. His house is adjacent to the site property. “I’d sure like to know what they’re going to do when they blast this and my basement caves in,” he said.
Several speakers also spoke in opposition to a 10-year, 75% tax abatement the company is expected to seek. The company has offered $500,000 to the school district for improvements to the track complex and safety improvements to the schools.
“The amount of money you’re offering to pay the school district is insulting,” Mark McGrail, said. He also called for village council to table the issue until issues related to the project are resolved and called on TJX to put its commitments in writing.
“If the process would have been carried out properly, you guys would have been turning dirt today,” he said
Bob Shaffer, who owns an abutting property, supports the rezoning. The land in question now generates about $7,000 in property taxes annually, and once TJX develops the site it will generate 85 times that, he noted. “TJX has a good track record of being good neighbors,” he added.
Other supporters of the project also pointed to the jobs and investment it would bring to the community, a particularly relevant issue as the General Motors Lordstown Complex prepares to go down to one shift.
“If this had been a good site for residential ,it would have been developed for residential,” said Jim Pirko, a real estate agent with Hanna Commercial Real Estate. “This property is perfect for exactly the kind of use you’re proposing.”
State Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-32 Cortland, advocated for support of the rezoning. He introduced an amendment to a bill signed into law this week that creates an expedited process for a referendum on the rezoning if it is approved. He said every time constituents have brought up concerns he has been able to go to TJX with them.
“We have an opportunity here. A lot of areas would die for this opportunity,” O’Briend said. “They’re willing to come to our community and be good neighbors.”
General Motors was “the golden goose” when it came to the village, Ted Radtka said. Radtka’s family is one of the property owners seeking the rezoning.
Radtka’s father sold some 120 acres to GM, which was “probably key” to the automaker coming here because it brought the complex closer to the Ohio Turnpike, he said. “How many of you sitting here would be here if it wasn’t for General, if farmers like my dad wouldn’t have sold them property?’ he asked.
Councilwoman Karen Jones said this is the third time GM Lordstown has gone down to a single shift and the plant has “always come back.” She also pointed out that the automaker committed to a $41 million investment beginning this summer to reroof and install a new ventilation system.
“They are not going away from Lordstown,” she said.
Jones said she and her husband looked to buy one of the parcels TJX has an option for before it was acquired years ago by Harvey Lutz, the Warren Township farmer who threatened to build a chicken farm at the site if opponents chased TJX away. Jones said they had planned to put in lots for housing, but the realtor representing the farmer selling the land said he requested that anybody who purchased the property keep it as farmland.
“I could not with a good conscience buy that property and then go against that man’s will,” she said.
Following the meeting, TJX issued a statement.
“We are pleased with the progress being made in this process and are grateful to the Council for taking the time to consider our proposal,” said Andrew Mastrangelo, Homegoods spokesman.
Sarah Boyarko, senior vice president for economic development for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, said the hearing “went just as we expected” and the chamber looks forward to the upcoming second and third readings of the legislation.
The chamber has worked with TJX on the project for more than two years.