Residents help shape proposed Lorain County lakefront plan

 

This represents one of the options under consideration to spur economic development along the lakeshore in Avon Lake.

BY MICHELE MURPHY

AVON LAKE – Residents who attended last Wednesday evening’s Lakefront Connectivity meeting may have arrived unfamiliar with the term “active transportation,” which means any self-propelled, human-powered mode of transportation, such as walking or bicycling.

But by the time they left 90 minutes later, attendees not only knew a good deal about the term, they had a chance to vote on which of a number of active transportation options they would like to see pursued as part of the Lorain County Lakeshore Connectivity Plan.

The initiative, led by Lorain County Commissioner Matt Lundy, marks the first time a collaborative effort has been undertaken to create a lakefront plan for the 23-mile stretch of Lake Erie alongside Avon Lake, Sheffield Lake, Lorain and Vermilion. Lundy is working on the plan with James Ziemnik, director of Lorain County Metro Parks, as well as the mayors and staffs of those lakefront communities. Citizen input also is regularly sought.

The Lakefront Connectivity members have secured an $85,000 planning grant from from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency. Lundy said the grant was focused on transportation improvements and economic development.

Restaurants, bathroom facilities and activities for families  were all discussed at this and the previous meetings.  Many people need something to do beyond just look at the water. So, if, as suggested at last week’s meeting, coffee shops were installed at existing parks, people could meet up for a beverage and take a walk thus improving their health, another goal planners want to achieve. Open spaces, better lake access and reducing vehicle traffic are other goals.

The company Environmental Design Group also has been hired to assist in the planning effort. EDG has been involved in a number of high visibility/high impact projects, including the Solstice Steps at Lakewood Park and the Stage 3 initiative for the Cleveland Towpath Trail, which will create green space and walking trails in a once-unwalkable industrial area on Cleveland’s near West Side.

EDG’s director Michelle Johnson pointed out pedestrian walk spaces, bike paths, protected bike paths and trails. She explained that a majority of people say they own a bike, but 93% also say they will not ride alongside cars. The proposed options would extend or create spaces to accommodate walkers, cyclists and drivers through the four communities. She emphasized that not all options would work along the entirety of Lake Road, but that alternatives could be developed. One option, for example, is taking walkers and bike riders onto existing Metro Parks trails.

She noted that those attending two meetings in early spring said the most important aspect of the plan was to provide more people with access to the lake or lake views. At those earlier meetings, residents and officials agreed that this would be a challenge given the high density of single-family homes along the lakeshore. Officials said there are utterly no plans to take private land for the initiative. They repeated that again last week.

Johnson stressed that final plans are not yet written or finalized, but the group is at the stage where each community has two proposals to consider.

In Avon Lake, the emphasis is on the area at the far west side of the city, known as West End. Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka said the area was “looking a little thread bare” and was hoping the initiative would generate ideas to revitalize it. Both Avon Lake plans called for the construction of condos above retail businesses on the south side of Lake Road near Artstown Shopping Center and across from the NRG power plant. While the old train station would be maintained, ball fields and a park could be built behind it. Avon Lake’s “go big” option, which will be totally dependent on the willingness of private property owners on the north side of Lake behind Kowalski Ford to sell, would allow for creation of a new public park with beach access and a pier along with additional development opportunities.

In Sheffield Lake, plans call for creating a true lakefront park by adding more green space at the current boat launch as well as across the street in a section of what is now Shoreway Shopping Center at the far west end of the city. The plan would enhance retail space and allow for construction of townhomes at the Shoreway site. Their “go big” option is to create a canal across Lake Road leading to a small marina in the existing Shoreway Shopping Center site. Townhomes would frame the marina.

Other ideas that have surfaced included building a convention center and hotel on the site of the current Lorain City Hall. A children’s hospital was also suggested for that site by a resident, Lundy said. There was talk of a marina with slips able to accommodate boats longer than 50 feet. One of the groups at last Wednesday’s meeting suggested adding special features like coffee shops at existing gathering spaces such as Avon Lake’s Veterans Park or Lorain’s Lakeview Park.

EDG will now incorporate citizen input from the Avon Lake meeting as well as a meeting held a week in Lorain, along with continued engagement from the county, Metro Parks and municipal staffs to write a plan. The draft plan will be shared at a meeting tentatively scheduled for the end of September or early October at Lakeview Park in Lorain.

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