Master plan 2020, the redevelopment of downtown Sylvania
Public feedback is now being accepted; final plan to be presented later this year
UPDATE 9/21/20: click here to view pdf of Master Plan presented on 9/15
A virtual meeting was held on Tuesday, September 15, 2020 to review a new “Master plan” for the redevelopment of downtown Sylvania, Ohio.
“The meeting was only going to be an hour and a half, but we had fantastic questions at the end. We had over thirty-five minutes of really good questions from the general public,” said Michelle Johnson, Director of Community Planning and Design at Environmental Design Group. “It was a fantastic meeting.”
During the meeting, which was open to the public, Johnson, along with Ben McKeeman, AICP, presented a vision for the future of downtown Sylvania. Environmental Design Group (EDG), a firm based in Akron, Ohio, was selected to research and create the master plan after the City of Sylvania’s Director of Economic Development attended an event which featured Johnson.
“Bill Sanford attended the American Planning Association’s Toledo chapter conference last year, where I was a keynote speaker,” Johnson recalled. “He liked what he heard, and he got in touch. He said they had been talking about this for Sylvania.”
“We looked at that plan, but what Environmental Design Group does that’s very different is that the market analysis is actually based on a lot of science,” Johnson explained. “I’m not discrediting it, I know there was a process, and it’s from a while ago, and the market changes. The difference with the Poggemeyer master plan is that it wasn’t based in science or data-driven information.”
Johnson, who is quite familiar with Sylvania as she is a graduate of Sylvania Northview, said that her firm did a retail study and a residential study, looked at what gaps were in the marketplace, and then actually applied those square footages as part of the new 2020 plan.
“So this isn’t just like, oh well, we want this, and therefore we’re going to put this here,” Johnson continued. “It’s that the market says that, for example, there’s an extra 150,000 square feet of restaurant that you guys could have with your current population. That means, in our eyes, and what that data translates to, is that Sylvania is actually losing those dollars. People are leaving downtown Sylvania, based on the study area, and going elsewhere and spending their money. So we have capacity for that area of market.”
At the Zoom meeting held on September 15, 2020, according to Johnson, there were sixty-two "Log ins" recorded, a number which includes City Council members and administrators, stakeholders, and members of the general public. Since multiple persons may have viewed the meeting on each "Log in, " Johnson said they do not have the exact count of attendees.
“I’ve done many, many public involvement and engagement meetings, and sometimes people get very upset about things because change is different for them, and it’s hard,” said Johnson. “We had none of that here. It was a really good meeting.”
Johnson is aware that comments have been posted on social media concerning this week’s Zoom meeting, in particular about her discussion concerning Reeb Funeral Home and Sautter’s Market.
“We recommended Sautter's remain Sautter's, just in a newer more modern building that is up against the street and potentially would offer more for a designated area for pickup and delivery of groceries,” Johnson said. “That site in particular is in the plan showing to be remaining as Sautter’s, it’s just a “Reimagined” Sautter’s. That’s very clear in the presentation. We’re labeling it Sautter's, it’s just a new building. And the trend that we’re seeing is that groceries are also serving as marketplaces, and those marketplaces are also serving as restaurants and cafés and community gathering spaces. But we are showing the building torn down and then relocated as close to Main Street as possible.”
Johnson added that she had been assured by Bill Sanford that both Sautter’s and Reeb Funeral Home would be alerted to the master plan’s mention of changes to their business sites.
“I believe the city did talk to Sautter’s, they told me that they were going to give them a heads up that we’re showing something different on their site,” Johnson said. “They also did talk to Reeb Funeral Home, and let them know that this is just a vision for the future.”
Unlike the reimagined Sautter’s, the master plan does show the Reeb building being replaced by development.
“The City is not tearing down Reeb,” Johnson was quick to note. “The quote was, I believe, something along this line, that if Reeb were to ever want to sell, maybe they want to retire or something like that, then that is the time for the City of Sylvania and, or, a private developer to potentially acquire that land. No one is getting forced out, eminent domain is not being talked about, no one is getting torn down beyond their desire. This is just something, that, if the opportunity were to come up, the Reeb Funeral Home site would be an ideal place for a mixed unit development. But we’re not saying that it’s going to go away anytime soon. But if for some reason they would want to sell, that is an ideal property to look at for redevelopment.”
Johnson detailed how her research for the new master plan did include the aspect of historical importance.
“There was nothing off limits, to answer that question directly,” Johnson responded when asked if there were any locations in Sylvania that were off limits due to their historical value. “The mayor and the council said, ‘You guys are the experts, let us know if there’s something that isn’t in practical or highest or best use.’ It wasn’t like ‘You’re not allowed to touch x, or show Y’ on the plan.”
Johnson went on to emphasize that Sylvania does not have an officially recognized downtown historic district.
“Sylvania is not a historic district,” Johnson stated. “I do think that the downtown is becoming close, though, where if you wanted to make it a historic district, you could. But that’s not part of this study whatsoever.”
Johnson said that the criteria for being recognized as a historic district is very specific.
“The downtown itself is not a historic district, I think the only area that has that (designation) is the museum. Sylvania is not on the Register,” Johnson said. “From a historic value, we actually don’t have a downtown district, and that actually is something we did talk about in the beginning of the project and again we talked about that in the public meeting. This study wasn't for whether we were doing a historic district or not. But it did come up."
Johnson again reiterated that the master plan’s purpose was reimagining Sylvania as a future vision.
“The big message that we want to get across is that this is a vision that’s not going to happen tomorrow,” Johnson went on. “If Reeb were to want to sell, that would be an ideal place for it. They’re not getting kicked out, they’re not getting torn down. They are a wonderful business to have downtown. But is it the highest and best use for that property? No. So in the future, if it were to go up for sale, we’re encouraging the city to be proactive in trying to acquire that property so it could be something else. But they're not getting forced out by any means.”
Johnson added that there were no major issues about the future vision, about Reeb or Sautter’s, during the Zoom meeting, and that attendees liked the “Reimagined Sautter’s,” as it was called during the meeting.
“We had three different formats for anonymous public input, and no one mentioned anything about Reeb or Sautter’s,” Johnson recalled.
“I do think they could potentially kind of reinvent what Sautter’s is. Still be a grocery, but offering more, and potentially expand their business a little bit. But still remaining and having a strong community presence,” Johnson said. “But that being said this would have to be something that Sautter’s would want to partake in. If they’re feeling like they’re happy with their building where it’s situated and they’re maximizing their return on investment of that land, then great. But we just had some different ideas about how they could potentially reinvent themselves and the building based on how we see the trends in the grocery market heading in the future.”
Johnson explained that Tuesday’s Zoom event was just the first public meeting, they will be regrouping with the council and mayor and the stakeholders, and then present the final plan at a City Council meeting later this year in November or December.
“This is really the time for the public to make those comments and offer input, the time is now,” Johnson said. “We will be happy to receive their comments and do what we can to better understand their perspectives. As we said during the public meeting on the 15th, we encourage people to send their additional feedback via email to myself (email@example.com) or Ben McKeeman, AICP (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The recording and transcript of the Zoom meeting is now available to the public, click here to find the meeting, and share the recording with the integrated audio transcript:
Access Passcode: .^+q9GRc
Note: The audio had difficulty picking up the Sautter’s name, so in the written transcript shows the name Sautter’s was translated into “soldiers.” In addition, the discussion of the “reimagined” Sautter’s takes place at about one hour and eleven minutes into the presentation.
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