Oberlin College sues city over Gateway dispute

By Evan Goodenow - egoodenow@civitasmedia.com

Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Workers are close to finishing phase one of the Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center, which includes the convention area and retail space.

Reservations for the Hotel at Oberlin are on hold.

Oberlin College is suing the city to get the 70-room hotel — part of the $38 million Gateway Center project at East College and North Main streets — opened on time.

City officials’ refusal to allow up to 19 diagonal parking spaces outside the hotel on East College is threatening to delay it opening next month. An excavation permit for pouring concrete for sidewalks outside the hotel and an occupancy permit have yet to be issued prompting the lawsuit.

The city is “unreasonably withholding” the permits and has made “urwarranted and excessive demands,” according to the suit written by attorney Bruce Rinker and filed Tuesday in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas.

Spaces were removed after construction began in September 2014 for the 105,000-square-foot building, which will include a convention center accomedating 300 and the college admissions office.

City officials said the spaces would hamper fire trucks’ access and water pump connections to the center, violating the fire code and endangering lives. The city wants a 40-foot fire lane with no parking along East College in front of the center.

“It just comes down to the safety issues,” acting city manager Sal Talarico said Thursday. “That’s the key part to getting to the next step.”

College officials and representatives of Smart Hotels, the project developer, dispute that the spaces are hazardous. And they say nearby businesses could benefit from angled parking.

College spokesman Scott Wargo wouldn’t answer questions about the suit, but in a written statement said it was filed as a last resort.

“Based on the assessment of safety experts, angled-on street parking is a reasonable interpretation of, and therefore permissible under, applicable fire safety codes,” Wargo said. “The college has had numerous meetings with city staff in an attempt to resolve the matter. They have rebuffed all suggestions.”

Talarico said the city has tried to compromise. He said seven parallel spaces were offered by Shansi House, 58 East College St., and the city proposed redirecting Willard Court to line up with Eric Nord Way to add several more spaces. Talarico said there are 16 spaces east of Willard Court on college property about 100 feet from the retail portion of the hotel that could also be used.

“Everyone here in the city is committed to helping the college make this a success,” he said. “The ball’s in their court at this point.”

The suit seeks a court order compelling the city to allow for the opening of the hotel, which would replace the Oberlin Inn, which opened in 1955. Law Director Jon Clark said he doubts any judge would allow the city to disregard the state fire code.

Rinker, who didn’t return calls, alleged in the suit that planning commission members in October 2013 approved a revised site plan that included 19 angled spaces on the north side of East College.

Talarico and city council member Sharon Soucy, council liaison to the commission, said the commission only approved the location of the hotel. The parking dispute was to be resolved later.

“Planning has never had a parking plan that they have approved for Gateway,” Soucy said. “Never, never, never. It was always agreed that we would approve the next step and, hopefully, discuss the parking situation later.”

Commission vice chairman Matt Adelman disagreed.

“I have no motivation but to tell the truth,” Adleman said. “We believed that we were approving a site plan that allowed angled parking.”

Adelman, appointed in 2012, said the vote was 4-1 and he voted no. Adelman said he supports having angled parking by the hotel, but voted no because he wanted a parking garage built to add more parking.

Former fire chief Dennis Kirin, who retired in June, said angled parking outside the hotel violated the fire code . His successor, chief Robert Hanmer, has agreed.

However, Adelman said in 2014, then-planning and development director Gary Boyle told him that when Kirin retired, angled parking would be allowed by the city. Boyle departed in January 2015 to become planning and development director and township administrator in Perkins Township.

Adelman said he’s not a fire code expert but believes the code could be interpreted to allow for the spaces. He said Boyle shouldn’t have put a plan before the commission if there were fire code problems.

Calling the dispute “incredibly frustrating,” Adelman said he’s unsuccessfully tried to get city and college officials to compromise.

“A reasonable person looking at this situation would ask why is it so difficult for the college to get permission to complete their project,” Adelman said. “I know it takes two to tango, but it’s hard to understand why there isn’t more cooperation between the city and the college.”

Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or GoodenowNews on Twitter.

Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Workers are close to finishing phase one of the Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center, which includes the convention area and retail space.


Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Workers are close to finishing phase one of the Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center, which includes the convention area and retail space.

By Evan Goodenow