The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 11, 2012

Golf course housing proposal is different, Conneaut developers say

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — Over the past few years, more than 70 acres of lakefront land at Whitney and Lake roads have been more of a legal battleground than a former golf course.

Conneaut Shores Golf Course, now filled with small trees and brush, has been the subject of court cases and heated meetings revolving around various attempts by landowner James Farmakis to rezone the land to accommodate housing. Each effort has been rebuffed by City Council, and those decisions have been upheld by judges.

The old golf course is again in the news, but Vincent Rose and Tom Fix — who comprise BuildWorks, a Conneaut-based company — are hoping for a different outcome. The pair have partnered with Farmakis and are trying a new approach to reach the same objective: Place housing units on what many consider to be a prime piece of real estate.

This time around, however, the project has a different look. Developers want permission to build detached, single-family houses — not rows of multi-family dwellings.

At the urging of City Manager Tim Eggleston, BuildWorks and Farmakis have scrapped the idea of rezoning the parcel. Instead, the developers are seeking planned unit development status for the project, a condition contained in the city’s zoning ordinance. Going the PUD route gives the city more say in the project and locks the developers into one proposal that is etched in stone.

“The proposed PUD is a master plan that cannot be revised as anything other than the submitted, single-family homes,” Rose said last week. “There are no apartments, no low-income housing and no high-rise buildings in this PUD.”

The PUD gets its first public airing at a 7 p.m. Planning Commission public hearing at Conneaut Municipal Court. If the commission likes the idea, it will be forwarded to City Council for its review. If council has no problem with the proposal, it returns to the Planning Commission for an authorization to prepare blueprints and project data the panel will study before granting final approval.

The PUD procedure differs from a rezoning request, which ultimately falls to council to approve or reject.

BuildWorks’ proposal, dubbed “The Shores,” envisions houses that will be built into the rolling topography of the old golf course. Four phases are on the table that would put houses in each corner of the property, but development of the southernmost corners are years away, Rose said. At full capacity, The Shores could contain slightly more than 100 houses, he said.

Farmakis will sell lots to BuildWorks as houses are contracted, Rose said.

At the start, the emphasize will be on two phases closer the lakefront. The first would be detached, cottage-style homes with floor plans between 1,100 and 1,800 square feet, each with access off Lake Road. The house would contain stone fireplaces and distressed wood flooring, Rose said. Landscaping would reflect the area’s shoreline atmosphere, he said.

“It would feel like a coastal community on Lake Road,” Rose said.

The second phase would involve a collection of bungalow-style houses within a “small village” with access off Whitney Road, Rose said. Each would be between 1,000 and 1,500 square feet and operate under a homeowners association that would handle landscaping, signage and other needs.

“It would be geared to active adults,” Rose said.

BuildWorks has already fielded inquiries on the two phases. The bungalow village is especially popular, Rose said.

“The phone is ringing off the hook regarding the maintenance-free complex,” he said.

The houses will be incorporated into the terrain, and many of the features of the golf course — including the water hazards — will remain. More than half of the entire property would remain green and undeveloped, Rose said.

 Fix said he has explained the proposed project to neighboring landowners and — after hearing details — all were on board with the idea, he said. BuildWorks projects in Conneaut include the Spring Street condominiums and West Winds complex.

“We live here, and we want the project to be something I can be proud of and my family can be proud of,” Fix said.

The Shores will be marketed to people in northeast Ohio and the Pittsburgh-Youngstown-Akron/Canton areas, Rose said. “They would be vacation homes and holiday homes for people who are looking for a quiet town without the bustle,” he said.