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Akron considers new zoning for Middlebury; residents worry about proposed Summa Health development

Akron councilmembers Shammas Malik, Jeff Fusco, Brad McKitrick
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron councilmembers Shammas Malik, Jeff Fusco and Brad McKitrick listen as a residents speaks during a city council meeting on Oct. 30, 2023.

Akron residents packed a city council Monday night to call attention to a controversial development that could go forward if the zoning code is changed.

The proposal from Summa Health and developer Fairmount Properties would convert properties owned by the health system near its campus in Akron’s Middlebury neighborhood into a mixed-use retail business district, which would include apartments, stores and a hotel.

City council’s planning committee voted to take time on the proposed zoning code change after the public hearing, in which they heard from residents, hospital system officials and the project’s developer.

The meeting was at capacity, and some attendees had to watch the meeting’s livestream on the television set in the lobby outside council chambers.

The ordinance would change an area of East Market Street to form-based code, a form of zoning that focuses on the character and layout of a community instead of the use of the land itself. Those who support form-based code say it promotes walkability and accessibility.

Adam Brandscomb of Fairmount Properties said the development would be part of the city’s plans to make the neighborhood a more walkable area.

“This type of urban overlay district is something you see in many forward-thinking cities that are trying to encourage and enable the type of pedestrian-scale, walkable neighborhoods that many people desire to see,” Brandscomb said.

Many residents opposed to changing the code said they are not against new development and form-based code; rather, their concerns primarily rely with Summa Health’s plan.

The project would replace some of the local YMCA’s parking lots, and the plan is to replace the Adolph Community Garden with a new parking lot.

“We’ve been there gardening for ten years. This is an important use, and I would think that a city, as well as a hospital system, should prioritize community gardening,” resident Sam Phillips said during the public hearing.

Brandscomb said they have proposed several replacement sites for the garden, but volunteers at the garden say those sites might not be ideal for growing.

"The rezoning we are voting on today gives Summa Health the reason they have been looking for to turn our community garden into a parking lot," resident Avery Duff said. "This is one of the most popular, diverse and active community gardens in the city of Akron and it's been a connection point for people from many parts of the world and various socioeconomic backgrounds."

Other residents raised concerns with the city’s long-term vision for the area proposed for rezoning.

Fran Wilson, an Akron activist who previously ran for city council, said retail should not be the priority in the Middlebury neighborhood – which is a historically underserved area in the city.

“Talking to neighbors, we need housing that is affordable and sustainable, and access to food resources," Wilson said.

Residents also called for better communication and more opportunities for neighbors to give input on the project.

Council Vice President Jeff Fusco says the project could be an important investment in the city and council members are considering both sides.

“We are also concerned about the neighborhood as well, so we’re going to work with you as best we can,” Fusco said.

Fusco and Ward 10 Councilmember Sharon Connor pointed out several upcoming meetings in November in which residents can meet with the key stakeholders of the project.

Last week, council heard comments about another form-based zoning code plan in the city’s Merriman Valley neighborhood. Council also voted to take time on this plan.

Dozens of residents also spoke out against the city’s resolution to express sympathy for victims of Hamas and affirming Akron's status as a welcoming city for those of Jewish faith. The resolution was passed in a previous meeting in response to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some called for the council to end its sister city relationship with Kiryat Ekron in Israel.

Updated: October 30, 2023 at 10:04 PM EDT
This story has been updated.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.