The Thursday, March 20, Genoa Township Board of Trustees meeting had a light agenda. The meeting, over in less than 15 minutes, likely set a new record, but the evening wasn’t over yet. The trustees reconvened at 8 p.m. for a zoning hearing held to review a proposed 46-unit single family, age-restricted development that Epcon Communities had hoped to build on 14.72 acres on Maxtown Road just west of Heritage Christian Church.
The trustees were hearing the issue following the proposed development’s unanimous rejection by members of the Genoa Township Planning and Zoning Commission. Last year Epcon Communities received permission from the trustees to move forward with the 31-unit Courtyards at Tussic following a zoning commission rejection of that development.
Epcon needed several variances from code for the Maxtown Road development, including rezoning from Rural Residential to Planned Residential District, a variance allowing the size of the PRD to be reduced (code calls for a 25-acre minimum), a front setback reduction, and a density variance needed even following the rezoning for the clustered dwelling units (code would allow 26 units).
Genoa Township Director of Planning and Zoning Joe Clase presented an overview of the original zoning application that Epcon submitted last fall, including a brief history of the properties that were planted in the 1950s. Today, the site contains three single-family homes each on its own lot, a one-quarter acre wetland and five acres of woods.
“The proposed 46, single-family, ranch style condos would be age restricted to 80 percent of the population 55 or older, with single access to Maxtown Road,” Clase said. “A loop roadway would run through the development that would also have several small parkets.”
Clase did admit that the current Rural Residential zoning is not appropriate for the site; that Planned Residential is a more appropriate designation considering the development along Maxtown Road.
“Zoning turned the application down mostly on density and the design of the development,” Clase said. “The application is contrary to our design requirements; 26 units is more suitable for the site.”
Clase said if the Epcon proposal were approved, he would encourage the trustees to mandate tree preservation and tree replacement requirements prior to tree removal.
Epcon Communities Vice President and General Counsel Joel Rhoades said several items had already been removed from the original application.
“The size of the parcel is what it is; there’s no adjacent properties that can be added to it,” Rhoades said. “The divergence for the 145-foot setback from the center of Maxtown Road is in keeping with neighboring properties and allows the expansion of the rear setback to retain much of the wooded area.”
Rhoades said there is a large volume of single-family homes in the township; that when those homeowners age and become empty nesters they would want to remain in the township and need smaller single-level homes with condominium services.
Rhoades also said the impact of increased density would be offset by the initial and resale value that Epcon Communities homes are known for.
“On Tussic Road, 30 of 31 homes have sold and have an average resale value of $320,000,” Rhoades said. “Our premise about the impact of increased density is the value of a well-designed 1,500-square-foot home versus a poorly designed 2,300-square-foot home allows us to design within the needs of the owners of these homes.”
There had been concerns about Maxtown Road traffic problems. Maxtown Road funnels four lane Powell Road down to two lanes, creating bottlenecks during rush hours, especially with no center lane for left turns.
“We understand traffic on Maxtown Road is an issue, but we can fairly accurately predict how those 46 senior homes would impact traffic,” Rhoades said. “With 1.5 residents per home, the traffic for age restricted homes is one half that of a single-family home. At build out there would be 230 trips per day, less than one percent of the Maxtown Road volume.”
Rhoades also said Epcon Communities would contribute to a fair share of Maxtown Road improvements by paying the cost of a left turn lane.
There were also concerns about trees being cut in the woodland by the current homeowners, and what Epcon would do with the remaining trees. Rhoades said only dead and dying ash trees were cut out of the wooded area; there was no sinister intent in their removal. He also said Epcon would preserve a portion of wetlands and some trees; that the back 80 feet of the site would be a do-not-disturb preservation area.
“We need these divergences to meet market demand, otherwise the development complies with code,” Rhoades added. “What else could be on this site? The plan before you preserves more features than other proposals for this site.”
Members of the audience questioned the need for age-restricted condominiums for Genoa Township residents; that only 17 percent of the 134 age restricted units in the township are occupied by people who lived in the township prior to purchasing their condos.
One resident of the development behind the site said the township’s comprehensive master plan was put in place for development control and asked the trustees to adhere to that plan.
“That master plan is based on what residents want, open space and trees,” that resident said.
Another resident who lives adjacent to the site said their development’s homes were the largest investments of their lives.
“This is where we live,” he said. “This development is a scorched earth of trees. Maxtown Road is a unique stretch of road; we’re not there yet, but we don’t want paved paradise and a parking lot. Yes, there will be value in the homes they build, but they will lower the value of homes in the neighborhood behind them. This proposal is shortsighted.”
Another resident said she somewhat agrees with the development, but with less density. She said Maxtown Road is only 235 inches wide, there’s a boat launch at Red Bank that exacerbates traffic congestion, no streetlights, and bicyclists using the roadway.
“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” she said. “Please don’t put any more traffic on Maxtown Road without improving the roadway.”
A member of the Mariner’s Cove Homeowner’s Association Board said when potential buyers come into his community to look at homes, they would not see a nearby 55-and-older community; they would see condominiums and walk away.
Becky Lewis, who owns one of the three lots Epcon would build on, said she and her siblings, owners of the other two lots, were never asked if someone could build in the area.
“Heritage Christian Church was built in 2006; they had agreed to put a turn lane in within five years,” Lewis said. “The trees we’ve been cutting down were just dead or dying ash trees. This is not the beautiful wooded area we once had; it’s a dead and dying one and a dumping ground for nearby residents.
“This whole area can be greatly improved by this proposal, and it would be a good time for the church to put in the turn lane they promised,” Lewis added. “The area would be rejuvenated. I think my father would be proud of this community, and of this land he tried so hard to maintain for 50-plus years.”
In rebuttal, Rhoades said the Epcon Communities proposal, if built, would not have a negative impact on adjacent housing values, and he understood everyone’s concerns about Maxtown Road traffic.
“But that traffic is not a result of any one of us,” Rhoades said. “The three houses on that site today that are not going to contribute to road improvements, Epcon will. This 46-home development will contribute less than one percent of the traffic to that roadway, but we will pay our fair share for that roadway’s improvements.”
During deliberation the trustees discussed sewer capacity, the Maxtown sanitary sewer lift station, and a timeline for improvements to those infrastructure facilities. It was also noted that site drainage would not impact the Mariner’s Cove subdivision.
Trustee Barb Lewis said some nearby residents would object less to the development if the 46-home density were lowered closer to the 26 homes allowed by code.
Rhoades replied that 46 homes was a critical number; that 26 units would not result in marketable retail home prices.
Trustee Karl Gebhardt said estimates for improving Maxtown Road from Tussic to Sunbury Road are $3 million to $5 million, making it three lanes with a bike path on one side and a sidewalk on the other. He said those estimates include necessary drainage improvements and right-of-way acquisition.
“Those estimates are some years out of date,” Gebhardt said. “I don’t know where we would get the money. As it stands right now, we’re going to have to go at it ourselves for Maxtown improvements, but we do need those improvements to deal with that traffic.”
Carfagna said he believes Epcon’s housing model works well in Genoa Township, the need is there, and empty nesters place no burden on the school system.
“In terms of an overall development this is palatable,” Carfagna said. “That said, I don’t believe this is the best option for this site. I worry we would be exacerbating all of these problems. Tussic was an open field; I do see a problem here with deforestation. We all moved here because we like the aesthetics of this community. I’m not thrilled with the design.”
Rhoades asked for the proposal to be tabled for 30 days so he could bring changes back to the trustees. Gebhardt said any changes would have to be major changes and he would recommend upholding the zoning commission’s denial of the project; that if Epcon wants to build on the site they should redesign the project and bring a fresh proposal back to zoning.
Carfagna agreed with Gebhardt.
“I think Epcon has a very good product, but not a proposal that works on this site,” Carfagna said. “It would have to be drastically different. I appreciate that you’re not prepared to negotiate tonight. I believe there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on the site. We do appreciate Epcon and want to continue working with you.”
The trustees voted unanimously to uphold the zoning commission’s denial of the Epcon Communities proposal for the Maxtown Road site.