Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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City planners attack mayor's Costco claims




Some Toledo Plan Commission members were angered by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's contention Costco and big-money developers could influence their votes.

The board, which is to review plans Feb. 2 for a Costco store at the Westgate Village Shopping Center, had angry words for Mr. Finkbeiner yesterday.

On a radio morning call-in show Tuesday, a day after his State of the City address, the mayor said threats that Costco Wholesale Corp. might scrap its plans if it does not get its way might sway members. He said it was his job to make sure Westgate was protected against "intimidation."

"Developers have lots of money. Developers know how to influence people extremely well. They know how to threaten, 'We'll pull out if we don't get our way 100 percent.' I heard that threat made," he said on the show. "If you don't think that wealthy developers don't know how to influence votes on plan commissions and so forth, then you are more naive than I thought you were."

Mr. Finkbeiner and Lucas County Commissioners Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak thrust themselves into the controversy by hiring an urban planner and a lawyer, against the owners' wishes, to come up with an alternative to the plan submitted for the shopping center development through the normal planning process.

The elected officials say the current blueprint is not pedestrian-friendly, has too big a parking lot, and its design will not stand the test of time. They say it should be more an urban village as envisioned in a master plan completed about a decade ago.

Mayor Finkbeiner criticized Liz Holland, whose company owns the center and whose grandfather built the center 50 years ago, by name in his State of City address Monday.

She said her plan follows the law.

Annoyed by the mayor's comments, plan commission members shot back yesterday.

Jerry Sawicki III told fellow commission members that he found it "ironic and unbelievable" that the mayor, who touted teamwork in his Monday speech, could be divisive only a day later.

"It's almost psychotic," Mr. Sawicki said after the meeting, adding that the mayor questioned the integrity of the commission's members. "You're one or the other. You're either for unifying the community or you're against it."

Mr. Finkbeiner's position that the plan commission should hold Westgate's plan to a higher standard would be unethical and illegal, Mr. Sawicki told his fellow commissioners.

Mr. Finkbeiner contends that the current plan does not follow the master plan closely enough.

"Asking this body, this commission, to go beyond the scope of our authority on [Mr. Finkbeiner's] whim is inappropriate," Mr. Sawicki said.

Mr. Sawicki serves on the county plan commission and won't have a vote on the shopping center matter Feb. 2 when the Toledo Plan Commission takes it up.

During yesterday's Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commissions meeting, Chairman Steve Serchuk asked the commissions' executive director, Steve Herwat, to draft a letter to the mayor expressing the commission members' disappointment.

Mr. Herwat mirrored Mr. Sawicki's irritation, calling Mr. Finkbeiner's comments "inappropriate."

"It was an attack on the citizen volunteers who serve on these bodies and on the elected officials that serve on these bodies," he said.

Bob Reinbolt, the mayor's chief of staff, said Mr. Finkbeiner "didn't mean anything to be derogatory to any plan commission member."

"He's just saying don't bend to the pressure," Mr. Reinbolt said.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick

at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6077.

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