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Published: Wednesday, 1/17/2007

Westfield 'lifestyle center' approved

A proposed expansion of Westfield Franklin Park with a new freestanding "lifestyle center" on Sylvania Avenue received Toledo City Council approval yesterday.

Council members and city employee unions also began to weigh in on personnel cuts and tax increases being considered to stave off deficits in the city's operating budget.

Council approved an appeal from Westfield Franklin Park LLC to approve the site plan with a new entrance from Royer Road, which would permit traffic to enter from Sylvania and Monroe Street. The vote was 11-0, with Councilman Betty Shultz absent.

Transportation Commissioner Michael White had urged council to reject the curb cut on Royer, saying the proposed left turn from Sylvania would be unsafe, and that Royer is inadequate for the amount of traffic expected. He said shoppers should be expected to access the new retail center from the mall's existing traffic entrances.

Westfield attorney Jerome Parker has said the center is a separate destination.

He contended the lifestyle center would not significantly increase the number of vehicles over the apartment traffic that previously used the site.

District 5 Councilman Ellen Grachek said she supported the application for the relocated curb cut.

Westfield's plans call for two stand-alone retail buildings totaling 37,400 square feet, a 40,820-square-foot multitenant retail building, and an 8,000-square-foot restaurant.

The mall's owners have not said what retail outlets might occupy the center, but real estate experts have speculated that Old Navy and DSW Shoe Warehouse are possible tenants. The center also is expected to have an upscale grocery store when it opens in 2008. Westfield Franklin Park acquired the former 128-unit apartment complex in May for $12 million.

Meanwhile, the administration's proposals for closing an $11.9 million budget deficit this year and a $17 million deficit next year began to draw reaction yesterday. Three city union representatives said the cutbacks in police and firefighter hiring and dispatch operations would affect public safety.

The administration proposed combining police and fire dispatch operations to save $364,000, and canceling plans for hiring new police and fire recruits in 2007.

Rick Wise, first vice president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, said because of the training time involved, canceling the 2007 police class would mean no new officers available for street duty until possibly late in 2008. He said many retirements are expected next year.

"Our officers have had their fill of a lack of manpower working the streets," he said.

Jim Martin, president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, said failing to hire a fire class would drive up the cost of overtime.

"When we work more overtime, injuries go up and we have to replace [the injured firefighters]. It's a situation that perpetuates itself," he said.

Don Czerniak, president of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 7, said combining police and fire dispatching would cost money because of the training time and building renovation necessary. The administration suggested the cuts to balance this year's proposed $241.7 million budget.

A memo from the Finkbeiner administration to council's budget task force on Friday said the only way to avoid deep cuts in police and fire operations in 2008 is to ask voters to either increase the city wage tax to 2.25 percent or pass a 6-mill property tax levy for public safety.

Ms. Grachek said it would be difficult to get voter approval of a new property tax levy. Councilmen Frank Szollosi and Joe Birmingham said they would not support new taxes.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has not endorsed a tax increase proposal, and a spokesman said the tax increase options were in the discussion stages between the administration and council.



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