Planning commission approves training center, pavilion

by Laura Bednar

The Independence Planning Commission approved the site plan for a 7,287-square-foot training center for disabled adults at 4849 Acorn Dr.

Empowered Community Services offers services and transportation for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to its website. CEO Joe Kowalski said the non-medical building would be the 10th center in the state and the fourth in the greater Cleveland area.

Hours of operation would be 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Per the city’s zoning code, building construction on the 3-acre parcel of land in question must be 10,000 square feet. Mike Cloud, president of Great Lakes Property Development, said due to the steep slopes and other geographical challenges, just under 1 acre of the land is buildable. The city’s board of zoning appeals approved the reduced building size.

Mayor Greg Kurtz asked if the company would entertain the idea of donating right of ways or frontage on the property for future development.

Over the years, Independence has acquired four land-locked parcels east of the end of Acorn Drive, west of I-77, according a previous update from Finance Director Vern Blaze. The city purchased a fifth parcel in the same area through the Cuyahoga County Fiscal Office in 2022, bringing the total area to almost 11 acres.

Kurtz said the land was originally put up for bid at a Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office auction because of unpaid property taxes. When there were no bids, the land was offered to the city.

Blaze said the city only had to pay closing costs and fees for the land, which ranges from a couple hundred dollars to $1,000. This amount is under the $15,000 threshold the city can spend without public bidding or council approval.

There is not currently a concrete plan, but Kurtz said the city is considering the possibility of an Acorn Drive expansion to the east. In that case, the city would want the company to give some of its right-of-way land and contribute towards the road.

Cloud said, “We think that this is an unusual and unreasonable request given the location of the property,” adding that he thought it unfair to contribute funds for a road extension that would only benefit the private property behind them.

The two parties came to a final agreement that the company would expand its current utility easement from 12 feet to 25 feet and reconfigure its driveway apron and pay for half of the cost should the public roadway be extended. The payment is for half of the road up to the Empowered’s property line to the east.

St. Maron pavilion

St. Maron Church on 7800 Brookside Rd. received site plan approval for a 12,500-square-foot pavilion on its property, strictly for parishioner use. Economic Development Director Jessica Hyser said church representatives met on site with residents to ensure Brookside homes would be shielded from pavilion lights and drainage would not affect neighbors.

Brookside resident Gus Katsis said he was concerned about the size of the facility, cars coming in and out and his own privacy as his property abuts the church property.

Contractor Joey Mannarino of Transitions Management Group said most weddings occur on the church’s Cleveland location and the pavilion would be geared toward daytime events like first communions and baptisms.

“It will be episodic use, not daily,” said Kurtz. ∞