“Braking” news: Planning commission members want more power to reduce speed limits.
The issue was raised after commission members on Aug. 24 reluctantly approved the site plan for an O”Reilly Auto Parts store on state Rt. 58.
Passage came despite concerns that traffic at the store — located between Reserve Avenue and US 20 — might increase crashes in the area where the posted speed limit is 50 mph.
Commission vice chairman Peter Crowley and commission member Eric Gaines voted yes. Commission chairman Matt Adelman voted no. Members Ellen Mavrich and Bryan Stubbs were absent.
Adelman, who wants the speed limit lowered, noted the road is within city limits. However, planning and development director Carrie Handy said law director Jon Clark determined because the road is a state route not in a downtown business district or residential area, the Ohio Department of Transportation has jurisdiction.
Adelman asked that Clark make a detailed presentation to commission members at their next meeting on what local control Oberlin has over speed limits.
ODOT studied traffic between Hamilton Road and US 20, factoring in additional traffic to O’Reilly’s in their calculations, according to a report by Handy to the commission. The O’Reilly site is across from a car wash and the Oberlin Plaza and near the US 20 intersection.
The study, which included examining crash history, driveway and intersection spacing, and road volume, determined 50 mph is safe.
Bobby Deitz, project manager for Bacon, Farmer, Workman Engineering & Testing, which represents O’Reilly, said the 7,453-square-foot store won’t add much traffic. He said it would only add about 10 more cars at its peak hour in the evening.
Dietz said plans call for 43 parking spaces because drivers are reluctant to shop at O’Reilly stores if store parking lots are crowded. He said customers perceive they’ll have to wait in line.
Nonetheless, Adelman was unsatisfied. He noted that because the neighboring Advance Auto Parts store won’t share its driveway with O’Reilly, an additional driveway will have to be built, increasing crash possibilities.
“With all the activity in that area, it’s getting super dangerous. I don’t care what ODOT says,” Adelman said. “It’s certainly safer if you slow traffic.”
City councilman Bryan Burgess also expressed safety concerns about an additional driveway when the matter was before council in June.
Council on Aug. 15 approved rezoning the site from an office district to a planned highway/commercial district. Burgess voted no.
Gaines reluctantly voted for approval. He said when the commission approved the Advance Auto store in 2006, it should’ve included a requirement that Advance share the driveway with its next door neighbor.
Gaines said OReilly shouldn’t be punished for the commission’s lack of foresight and the commission has to trust the expertise of ODOT traffic engineers. He said a rejection could lead to the perception that commission members are anti-business.
“I don’t want us to be viewed as a roadblock,” Gaines said “Not just for this development but other developments.”
Frequent commission critic Mark Chesler, owner of Anchors Aweigh, a business located across the street from the site, was unhappy with the vote. He said ODOT engineers underestimated traffic volume.
Chesler is part of a group gathering petition signatures for a ballot referendum on the issue in November 2017.
However, that could be too late to prevent the store opening. Dietz said in an interview that O’Reilly stores are usually open within nine to 12 months of being approved.
The store needs fire code approval from the fire department before opening. Because the property is partially owned by Merle Hanmer, grandfather of fire chief Robert Hanmer, the younger Hanmer said in an interview that he’ll recuse himself from discussions regarding the property.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.