U.S. Coking Group's choice of a 51-acre site along Lake Erie's Maumee Bay for its proposed $500 million FDS Coke Plant got a reluctant endorsement yesterday from the Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commissions.
Members of the joint board admitted they knew little about the massive industrial project, and were dismayed by the continued secrecy of investors behind it.
On another matter, the commissions agreed to hold off until at least March 9 before issuing a decision on one of the most controversial plans it has ever considered to help reduce visual clutter for motorists.
That proposal calls for gradually phasing out tall pole signs for all Toledo-area businesses in favor of monument-style markers similar to those found in Maumee's Arrowhead Park and Michigan's Bedford Township.
The coke plant is to be built on Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority land on the East Toledo-Oregon border, between the Maumee River and Duck Creek. The five-member planning board approved the compatibility of that site by a 3-1 vote, with all 40 conditions that had been recommended by the planning staff.
Commissioners made it clear they were unqualified to judge the potential environmental implications of the project, which has risen in cost by about $200 million because of pollution controls the company has agreed to install following months of negotiations with regulators. Their vote, commissioners said, was limited to the general compatibility of the site. The planning board was required to weigh in because the project would result in a parking lot of 108 spaces, 48 above the threshold for triggering a review, said Daniel Walch, of SSOE, a Toledo engineering firm involved in the design.
Commissioner Robert Savage opposed and Commissioner Bernard Culp abstained.
But even Commissioner Rey Boezi, who made the motion for approval, said he was "not comfortable" with what was presented because it was sparse on details. It gave dimensions for two administrative buildings and the parking lot - but not the plant itself.
"This is sort of the nose and the tail of the elephant," Mr. Boezi told Mr. Walch. "We don't have any idea what this facility looks like."
Those details will be provided later, Mr. Walch said.
The proposed changes to Toledo's sign regulations are the most sweeping that have been proposed in more than a quarter of a century.
While commissioners said they favor the concept, they agreed with Mr. Boezi to create a task force to study the matter and report back within 90 days. That would make it possible for a vote at the board's March 9 meeting, Chairman Steve Serchuk said.
Jerry Parker, an attorney representing the 30-member Toledo Area Sign Contractors Association, fumed over the proposal. He said it threatens to hurt business and will subject the city to lawsuits. Opponents, such as himself, view pole signs to be constitutionally protected under the First Amendment, he said.
He said low monument markers have the potential of being safety hazards by forcing drivers to slam on their brakes while searching for businesses. And he said some noteworthy additions, such as the Stranahan Theater's tall digital sign that was installed a couple of years ago, likely wouldn't be allowed to be built under the proposed regulations.
But developer Larry Dillin, who incorporated low signs into Town Center at Levis Commons in Perrysburg, said he plans to do the same with the proposed redevelopment of the Southwyck Shopping Center in South Toledo.
Mr. Culp said he was ready to approve the proposal yesterday, even after hearing Mr. Parker talk about potential litigation.
"You can talk about your lawsuits all you want. That's OK with me," Mr. Culp told Mr. Parker. "Bring it on."
But the board went the task force route after hearing its attorney, Jennifer Johnson, admit the proposal merited a closer look.