Barberton carves out a post-Babcock and Wilcox future
Next month, Barberton City Council will consider a new 120-acre development that would bring about 206 homes to the town.
The project has already received the recommendation of the city’s planning commission and has been the subject of public meetings with council and residents in attendance.
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The property is part of land near Coventry Township which the city annexed some 30 years ago; it is about half a mile west of a $5 million road and infrastructure project along South Van Buren Avenue.
Together, the two are part of a series of home, business and infrastructure additions that are shaping a post-Babcock and Wilcox future for the town of 25,191.
The $35 million Trucen Farm development would add 56 single-family homes and 150 ranch-style townhouses to the city’s housing stock and would be the largest such development for the foreseeable future.
At a public meeting April 25, Barberton planning director Trevor Hunt said the two plots represent one of the last developable properties for housing within the city limits.
In a May 11 interview at the Municipal Building, Hunt said housing demand in the city remained strong and a residential project already underway in the city was popular with buyers. Ryan Homes is building four or five homes a month in the western part of the New Haven long-term development, he said.
“They’re selling like hotcakes,” he says.
Mortgage rates are a wild card
Tayler Thompson, a council member who served on the city’s planning commission, said Wednesday she hopes the project will deliver.
“I hope to see other high-end homes coming along,” she said. “The way I see it, it looks like what we have at Austin Estates,” she said. “What I love about Austin Estates is that all the homes are different, but they work well together.”
Nationally and locally, home prices have surged recently as homebuyers shake off the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic. But certain economic conditions suggest that demand, sales and affordability will suffer in the coming months.
The Trucen Farm project, for example, comes at a time when mortgage rates are on the rise, increasing monthly payments for homebuyers and limiting who can qualify for a mortgage. On Thursday, the National Association of Realtors reported existing home sales fell for the third consecutive month, down 5.9% from April 2021.
Barberton has an edge over most nearby communities, with a lower median sale price than New Franklin, Coventry Township and Norton, according to Rockethomes.com. Only Akron has low-cost housing stock.
Hunt said interest rates could have a short-term effect on the city’s housing market, but doesn’t foresee any changes in developers’ long-term plans.
“The biggest issue is mortgage rates,” Hunt said. “This could lead to a brief market downturn after COVID-19.”
In addition to the 206 houses proposed in the Trucen Farm project, another 69 houses are under development in other residential projects in the city.
An aging stock of rental housing in the city
Hunt said the rental units offered in the Trucen Farm development meet a need for such housing identified in a recent study. It has been 40 years since new market-level rental housing was developed in the town and over 1,000 tenant households in Barberton have an annual income of over $50,000.
“[There is] significant pent-up demand for market-priced rental accommodation,” he said.
But with scarce developable land in Barberton, the city’s focus is downtown near Lake Anna.
“[Trucen Farm] is the biggest project for the foreseeable future,” he said. “There is nothing of this size [left]. Knowing this, we realize the potential of the city center and want to focus there in the future.
On a much smaller scale than the Trucen Farm plan, a proposal to renovate the adjacent Powell and Barberton Herald buildings on West Tuscarawas Avenue for nine or 10 extended-stay units could soon begin with cleaning of the two structures. The plan includes connected extended-stay units on the second floor of both buildings. Commercial establishments would operate on the ground floor.
Hunt said the units would be ideal for business executives moving to the city or for a physician residing at Summa Health System’s Barberton campus.
In the long term, the recent rental market study recommended the development of approximately 100 rental units on a downtown parking lot known as Block 7. The recommendation called for a mix of one, two and three rooms to meet demand.
Business is better
The city’s efforts to attract new business after B&W are also paying off.
After:Opening of a major online vehicle auction company in Barberton, Norton
Last year, Copart Inc., a multibillion-dollar online auto salvage auction company, received approval for a location that straddles 90 acres in Barberton and Norton. The location offices will be inside Barberton, while the land used to park the auctioned vehicles is in Norton. The company is currently in the process of classifying the site.
Thompson said a major employer’s recent decision to move to the city is a sign of Barberton’s rebound from the downturn created by B&W’s departure. Industrial Commercial Properties, which describes itself as a “partner in commercial and industrial rehabilitation and economic redevelopment,” controls about 16 acres of the former B&W campus.
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“I think we’re definitely on the right track,” she said. “One of the most important things is that Barberton Tree returns to Barberton [with] More than 65 employees.
Test America, an environmental laboratory testing company, recently located on South Van Buren Avenue, attracts more than 100 employees to the site.
Additions to Barberton’s lineup of businesses include recent and upcoming retail establishments that have been creating buzz on social media. They include the addition of Marc’s Stores to Magic City Plaza. The discount store is expected to open anytime.
Big Lots recently moved into expanded premises in the same mall.
“We’re all very excited about Marc,” Thompson said. “Big Lots opened today, and it looks great.”
Leave a message for Alan Ashworth at 330-996-3859 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconj.