Akron residents voice environmental concerns over proposed new development at White Pond Drive – ideastream

Akron residents are speaking out against a proposed new development that they say could harm the environment.
In September, city council unanimously approved a permit for a mixed-use residential and retail development called White Pond Reserve to be built on green space on the city’s west side.
But at least two councilmembers have expressed regret about that decision after residents recently came forth with environmental concerns – including that the land may be home to endangered species, which city officials have denied.
“If I had known just a smidgen of what I learned last week, I would have voted differently,” said At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien.
Omobien was referring to a meeting she attended in early November with more than 50 residents who expressed concerns about the development.
One of the residents leading the effort to stop the development is Meghan Lugo, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Akron.
The construction will disrupt the ecosystem and tree canopy there, Lugo said.
“To think about just the loss of nearby green space that I do believe is good for health and well-being, and a sense of community – to think of that being lost for my children and the people of that community, it’s upsetting,” Lugo said.
Though the land is currently vacant, Lugo said some residents in the neighborhood walk their dogs and go bird watching there.
Aside from environmental concerns, residents have also shared worries about increased traffic in the area as a result of the retail developments.
The city has owned the land since 2006 and initially intended to build office space there, city officials said. However, the demand for offices has dropped as more people are working from home, and officials plan to sell the land to the developer, Triton Property Ventures LLC.
In a city council planning committee meeting Monday afternoon, Sean Vollman, Akron’s deputy mayor for integrated development, said an environmental survey was done when the city acquired the land. That survey showed no evidence of any endangered species, Vollman said.
Vollman has received a picture of a bald eagle from concerned residents, but he said the photo has not been confirmed to be from that site.
“When that study was done, there was found to be no endangered species habitat in that area. We have no knowledge of anything different than in the report that was done in 2006,” Vollman said.
Lugo said that’s outdated information.
“My understanding is that every five years you need a new wetland delineation study because they are no longer valid,” Lugo said.
Residents attempted to speak in the committee meeting but were denied, said one of the residents, Miranda Florent, a biology student at the University of Akron.
According to her research, the proposed development area is a historic peat bog, Florent said. Builders may have to fill in wetlands in order to develop on it, which will disrupt the wildlife there, she said.
“From a development perspective, there are challenges. You can’t build on peat, so you essentially have to dig it all out and backfill,” Florent said. “There is concern that they would start and face a lot of problems, having nowhere to go.”
Vollman denied this in the committee meeting, adding that the current permit does not allow the builders to fill in wetlands. If they want to during the course of the construction, they would have to secure a different permit, he said.
“This project will not disturb the existing wetlands on the property,” Vollman said.
Mayor Dan Horrigan spoke in the committee meeting in favor of the development and said “misinformation” is circulating about the city-owned land.
“It used to be a leaf dump and a concrete manufacturing plant. It was never a protected wetland, just because water has pooled somewhere,” Horrigan said.
Horrigan also said while city officials have heard residents’ concerns, there is a need for new housing in Akron. He also said some of the people voicing concerns might not live in Akron.
Lugo said she found Horrigan’s comments insulting.
“It is not befitting of a public official to say that about citizens who are simply fighting for their rights to live in a healthy and clean and equitable city,” Lugo said as she teared up. “No one deserves to have the leader of their city, the city that they love and care about, say that they don’t even live here.”
If the development is stopped, Lugo and Florent hope a park could take its place.
“It could be a really great shining star for our city if we chose to make it into a park and restore it,” Florent said.
Lugo is hoping to have more conversations with city planners and the developers of the project to get some of her questions answered and concerns heard.
Ward 5 Councilwoman Tara Mosley also called for further conversations before she can feel comfortable voting on the project.
More residents are planning to speak in the full council meeting Monday night, which starts at 7 p.m.
City officials and the developer are planning to submit the official development agreement later this week or early next week.
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