ASHTABULA — A $9 million senior housing complex planned for the former Mount Carmel School property is temporarily on hold.
Testa Enterprises of Cuyahoga Falls still plans to build a two-story complex with 47 one-bedroom apartments but were unsuccessful in securing funding this year from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, said Ryan P. Landi, vice president of development for Testa Companies.
“We do plan to resubmit the project next February,” he said.
City Manager Jim Timonere said he believes the project will move forward next year.
“They’re still very interested in the site and project,” he said. “We knew this was a possibility and will keep working with them as they submit the next application.”
Council President John Roskovics said he was disappointed to see Testa wasn’t awarded the funding because Council is always on the lookout for ways to attract more residents.
“I believe there is a need for this project and hope that they will be successful on the next round of funding,” he said.
The project got the go-ahead from City Council last February — but the change didn’t come easy.
During the first round of voting, the rezoning ordinance to allow Testa to build the apartment complex failed in a 3-3 vote. Council members Kym Foglio, Mike Speelman and Chris McClure voted against it and Richard Quaranta was absent because of health concerns.
That night, Ashtabula City Solicitor Michael Franklin said a citizen informed him Foglio was a paid employee of Our Lady of Peace Parish. The parish owns the property and is the entity officially requesting the zoning change.
Franklin emailed council members and said the vote should be re-taken and Foglio should abstain or risk violating state ethics laws and facing a six-month prison term, according to council members.
A special meeting was called for 7:30 a.m. on the following Saturday and this time all seven members attended.
Foglio said she has been the church organist for decades.
“It has been no secret that I have been the organist for the parish,” she said. “Only after the vote failed was this brought into question. ... I consider this to be very threatening.”
Foglio said the ordinance was being ram-rodded through and it was her decision if she wanted to recuse herself.
She was upset about the short turnaround between meetings and wanted time to contact a lawyer or the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Franklin was not at the Saturdays meeting, and council member August Pugliese, who supported the project, suggested the meeting be put on hold until Franklin was able to attend.
Pugliese said the city has made strides moving forward with council members working together and he didn’t want to see that progress derailed.
Council Clerk LaVette Hennigan said Franklin was clear in emails to council regarding the conflict of interest.
Roskovics said Foglio should abstain because of her work with the church.
“The point is, she is an employee of the church so she shouldn’t vote on any item affecting the church,” Roskovics said.
McClure also referenced other potential conflicts of interest with Foglio and her husband, Dean, which came up during an executive session. Both Foglios and McClure declined to comment further after the meeting.
After a lengthy discussion, Foglio decided to cast a no vote, along with McClure and Speelman.
Roskovics, Pugliese, Quaranta and Jane Haines favored the rezoning, which went into effect 30 days after the meeting.
Speelman said because the original vote didn’t go the way some officials wanted they looked for another way to make the vote come in favor of the project.
Much of the contention during the original vote centered around whether the senior housing would be “low income.”
Timonere and Testa said it is “market rate” housing and will cost $650 regardless of a senior’s income.
“Today 36 percent of our population is 55 and older; in 2030, that will go up to 39 percent of the population,” he said. “There are lots of low-income housing in the city but not enough senior housing.”