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Fairlawn OKs Rothrock Road Closing Against Walmart Move; Faces Lawsuit

Council votes unanimously to install gates that close road to commercial traffic. Legislation includes last-minute amendment to answer claims of lawsuit.

Fairlawn City Council called a special meeting Monday to OK spending more than $320,000 to close against traffic from a proposed  Superstore and Sam's Club in Copley Township. Yet despite the fast-track legislation, it's likely the city will have to face the neighboring township in court before construction can begin.

Hours earlier, the township filed a lawsuit against the city in Summit County Common Pleas Court to stop the Fairlawn from installing gates that would open with a key card, which would be issued only to residents.

Fairlawn's plan to issue the cards would effectively close Rothrock Road west of Sawgrass Drive to commercial traffic: semis, busses, shoppers and delivery trucks headed to a proposed Walmart and Sam's club would lose a direct route to the proposed site.

Copley's lawsuit argues that the closing the Rothrock Road would harm businesses and create a problem for police and fire to reach residents and businesses in an emergency.

Perhaps to mitigate those claims, council approved an amended version of the ordinance that was changed in executive session before the meeting.

The modified legislation states that the gates will open for emergency vehicles with a radio signal, and that the design takes into account a traffic studies of the area.

"I believe the city is acting within its rights," Mayor William Roth said. "Our goal is to protect the residential integrity of both Copley and Fairlawn, and we have always made it clear that emergency vehicles will have access.

Copley and Fairlawn disagree on who has the right to control the road. Roth has said previously that the roadblock will be within the jurisdiction of the city. 

Copley Township Trustees contend the road is the jurisdiction of the County.

The township has yet to vote on whether to approve a site plan for the Walmart.

Reached Tuesday, Copley Township Trustee Helen Humphrys called the plan "ill conceived," and said the township is concerned about delayed response time the gate and road closing could cause. "Fairlawn's actions will deprive all members of the public the right to enjoy equal access to the road that was built with and is maintained  with taxpayer money," Humphrys said.

While council discussed the issue, project developer Larry Levey, who lives in Copley, watched from a seat in the back of the room. He declined comment on the vote. 

But Neil Bhagat, an attorney for the proposed development did speak. He warned the city could face a second lawsuit if the gates go in. "We have great concern about the obstruction of a public road," Bhagat said. "We will pursue any and all legal remedies available to us."  

Council voted unanimously to buy the gates and asphalt needed to close the road. It was the only issue on the night's agenda. The approval vote was greeted with applause from residents who disapprove Walmart's plan to move about a mile from Rosemont Commons in Fairlawn to their neighborhood in Copley Township. 

"This street cannot handle the development," said Victoria Sabino, a member of Citizens for a Better Montrose. And (the developers) have said it's not just Walmart, they want to fully develop that entire area. Almost every lot on that side of the street is for sale." 

Service director John Sellars said the bid was $50,000 under estimate. The cost includes the asphalt, construction and installation of the gates, shown in a video here.

The city estimates it will take approximately 30-45 days to get plans approved. Asphalt must be ordered and installed before November.

Jenean Gabbert July 26, 2011 at 10:10 PM
YAY!!!!! Take that Copley!!

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