The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 14, 2012

Neighbors endorse Conneaut initiative

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT —  A new approach to a multi-years effort to put housing on an empty golf course has apparently won the support of people who once were staunch opponents of the plan.

On Tuesday night, Conneaut’s Planning Commission held a public hearing to discuss a project that would transform portions of the old Conneaut Shores Golf Course into new residential neighborhoods. The proposal, a partnership between BuildWorks of Conneaut and landowner James Farmakis, would put single-family houses on portions of the 70-plus acres at Lake and Whitney roads. Work would be spread over four phases that could take years to fully develop, said BuildWorks’ Vincent Rose.

Past efforts to use the golf course for housing have relied on a rezoning change that worried neighbors and was resisted by City Council. This time around, developers are seeking to build as a planned unit development, an option contained in the city’s zoning code.

Unlike a rezoning change, a PUD locks the developer into a concept that can’t be arbitrarily changed without a whole new application process. The result is a project that contains no surprises to anger neighbors and city leaders.

“It won’t grow,” Rose said at the hearing. “We can reduce it, but it can’t grow.”

In the past, Farmakis sought the rezoning change to make the golf course more attractive to buyers. He had no intentions of developing the project himself, which worried neighbors. The PUD approach, with an actual developer who can provide drawings and maps, proved reassuring to many in the stand-room-only crowd.

Many voiced support for the project, among them Nicholas Iarocci, a neighbor who said he had opposed past attempts to rezone the land. This go-around is different, he said.

“Now we have developer who was born and raised here,” Iarocci said. “Somebody who is committed to Conneaut. And we have a PUD. This is precisely what some of us have been asking for.”

Richard Chicatelli, another neighbor who didn’t like rezoning, has also warmed to the new approach.

“(The land) is going to stay zoned R-2 and it’s lakefront development,” he said. “Thank you for doing (the project) as a PUD.”

Not everyone embraced the project. One woman worried the houses would be priced too cheaply, attracting “riff-raff.” Others feared buyers would rent out their properties, while some people said the city already has plenty of vacant housing options.

The first phase of the project would put cottage-style houses along Lake Road with a starting price of $150,000, Rose said. At least three people have already expressed interest in those houses. The second phase would create a “village” of smaller houses off Whitney Road that offer maintenance-free living managed by a housing association. There has been plenty of interest in the bungalows, primarily from people who already live in town, said Tom Fix, BuildWorks’ construction manager.

The houses will be marketed to people who live out of the area but enjoy Conneaut and Lake Erie.

BuildWorks will acquire land from Farmakis as houses are sold, the developers have said. If every available lot was sold, 125 houses would stand on the ex-golf course.

The Planning Commission will formally vote to relay the PUD application to council for its review. If council has no qualms, the application will be kicked back to the commission, which could then authorize BuildWorks to create the detailed drawings and blueprints the commission will study before giving its full and final blessing.