TJX zoning change foes fill petitions

Group has collected 106 signatures for referendum

Tribune Chronicle / Raymond L. Smith From left, Lordstown residents Keeley Chaffee, Michael Chaffee and Richard Sherry sign petitions to have a referendum vote placed on the August ballot that would allow residents to vote on whether to overturn seven ordinances that changed the zoning on 290 acres of land from residential to industrial to make way for a TJX HomeGoods distribution center.

LORDSTOWN — Members of the group supporting returning the zoning of 290 acres of property that may be used for the TJX HomeGoods Distribution Center back to residential spent Tuesday at the village administration building collecting voter signatures to get the issue on the ballot for a special election next month.

Brett Dickson, a leader in the movement that opposed the zoning change of the properties, expressed confidence they would collect at least the 124 signatures per ordinance required to get the referendum on the ballot. However, as of 7 p.m. Tuesday, when the doors of the administration building closed, the group had collected 106.

“We have the names of another 50 voters that could not come here today to sign the petitions,” Dickson said. “We will make an effort to meet them to get their signatures. We are well on our way to getting what we need.”

Opponents need to collect at least 124 valid signatures from registered voters in Lordstown for each of the seven pieces of property council voted to change to industrial from residential to make way for the 1.2 million-square-foot center on Ellsworth Bailey Road.

Once the referendum is on the ballot, Dickson expressed confidence their position that the formerly residentially zoned properties should not be used for the distribution center will prevail.

“The fallacy in this has been the belief this is a small group of people,” Dickson said. “There are people who are concerned about the way things have been happening in the village. Once people are in the privacy of the voting booth, they will be able to vote their conscience.”

Joan Vernon, a longtime village resident who signed the referendum petitions, said everyone in the village should sign up to make sure the vote takes place.

“This will give voters a chance to express their views,” she said. “This is going to affect our community, whether it is positively or negatively, so we might as well have a say.”

Dickson said the group has obtained the names of the 2,517 registered voters in the village from the Trumbull County Board of Elections. It is comparing the names of those signing the referendum petitions to what is on the Trumbull records.

Former Mayor Michael Chaffee and his daughter, Keeley, were among those who signed each of the seven documents to make sure the vote takes place.

“This vote will help to bring closure to the issue because voters will determine the outcome,” Chaffee said. “Hopefully, people will be able to move on and begin the healing this community needs.”

Mayor Arno Hill publicly questioned the judgment of those against the TJX facility because once the center is fully operational, the project will bring additional dollars to the school district and new jobs for residents.

“If this fails, then I think it is fair for voters to question whether they should support any future school levy that may be requested in the future,” Hill said. “This is money that will be earned for the schools without it coming back to voters.”

School board member Cheryl Kistler said her support of the referendum vote has nothing to do with her view about the TJX project.

“This is about the democratic process,” Kistler said. “This is about people having the right to vote on determining whether they support the zone changes.”

Kistler said she would have preferred doing something like this before the zoning change, so school board members would not be in the middle.

Village council, after several contentious meetings, last month supported changing the zoning of the seven parcels from residential to industrial in a 3-to-2 vote. The zoning changes are needed to allow the company to build the distribution center.

Opponents to the zoning changes have argued there are available village properties that are large enough for the company to build its center that already are zoned industrial.