© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

White Pond development approved, opponents ushered out at Akron council meeting

Protesters of the White Pond Reserve development are escorted from the Akron City Council chambers Monday night.
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
"No trespassing" signs were installed over the weekend at a city-owned property off of White Pond Drive in Akron. The area has seen increased interest lately due to a controversial development proposed there.

This story was updated on Dec. 12, 2022 at 11:27 p.m. EST

Akron City Council narrowly approved the controversial White Pond Reserve development proposal Monday night in a 7-6 vote during a raucous meeting.

Opponents of the project were not allowed to speak before the vote was taken. Public comment is normally reserved for the end of each meeting and council voted 7-6 against an exception allowing comments on White Pond to be moved up on the agenda.

After the development was approved, residents in attendance became vocal, prompting Council President Margo Sommerville, who voted in favor of the development, to call on police to remove them from the council chambers. They were allowed back in, one by one, for the public comment period.

Resident Meghan Lugo, an opposition leader, addressed those who voted to approve the project.

“Do this community the decency of resigning," she said. "Not only will it spare us the indignity of suffering through your incompetence, but it will spare you the wrath of the masses.” 

White Pond development opponent Fran Wilson, who is running for an at-large council seat, was equally critical.

“This is supposed to be for and by the people … and then we were kicked out of the people’s hall?" said Wilson. "These benches are empty and this is a city council meeting? I hope we all take some time tonight to reflect on this moment.” 

Councilman Shammas Malik, who voted against the development, said before the vote that he thought it was being rushed.

The approval by council means the city will sell 65 acres of land, which includes wetlands, on Akron’s West Side for a mixed-use residential and retail development.

The development is needed to help meet housing demands, city officials have said, while residents have concerns about traffic and the environment.

Initial plans from the developer, Triton Property Ventures LLC, showed some of the rental properties proposed on the wetlands themselves.

In a planning committee meeting Monday afternoon, Deputy Mayor for Integrated Development Sean Vollman said the city worked with the developer to change that plan, and the wetlands will no longer be impacted.

“We said, you know, 'You said that you were not going to do that. It would help if we showed that you are not going to do that.' So, that is really the main change between the plans,” Vollman said.

The developer, Alan Gaffney, has also committed to investing in the city's tree planting efforts to help offset the acres that will be cleared for construction, officials said.

Any clearing of trees will still impact the wetlands ecosystem, according to University of Akron biologist Peter Niewiarowski.

“That, essentially, is the same thing as removing a wetland,” Niewiarowski told Ideastream Public Media in a previous interview. “These species breathe in those waterbodies, temporary or permanent, but the adults require the mature upland forest for the rest of their annual activities.”

Residents also raised concerns that the development will increase traffic in an already busy area.

“I think there are a number of concerns that feel unaddressed, particularly around the existing traffic problems around [I-77], Mull [Avenue] and White Pond [Drive],” said Malik.

Traffic studies of the area around the development indicate it is congested, Malik said.

In addition to Malik, Councilmembers Donnie Kammer, Nancy Holland, Tara Mosley, Russel Neal and Linda Omobien voted "no."

Voting for the development were these members of council: Sommerville, Phil Lombardo, Brad McKitrick, Mike Freeman, Sharon Connor, Jeff Fusco and Ginger Baylor.

Holland had earlier expressed concerns about previous site assessments that have shown soil and groundwater samples to contain harmful contaminants. She said that could put future residents of the development at risk.

“As a mother and as a grandmother, I am deeply concerned about tenants being exposed to any significant levels of cadmium, arsenic, lead, and whatever else is revealed but we do have results now, and I am concerned by that,” Holland said.

The developer will conduct tests of the soil within 30 days and can terminate the development agreement if the land isn’t suitable, city officials said.

Council Vice President Jeff Fusco said the city has addressed residents’ questions.

“We have received specific concerns; we have responded to many of those concerns … we have made many, many adjustments along the way,” Fusco said.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.