By Melanie Williamson
At the Monday, June 17, Vermilion City Council Streets, Buildings, Grounds Committee meeting, provided the members of council with the results of a study done on the US Route 6 Corridor presented by Don Romanchek, director of Lorain County Community Development and Valeria Croasmun of MS Consultants. Following the presentation, mayor Forthofer explained that what was presented was a full plan and that council may consider the plan as a whole, parts of the plan, or none of the plan. He also stated that parts of the proposed plan have already been pursued as the city has been looking for ways to improve the east end of Liberty Avenue. He also stated that both of the property owners for the sites identified for development in this study are open to the idea of development.
Mayor Forthofer stated, “This extensive plan is funded by a grant from the Lorain County Commissioners. It helps the Administration take a hard look at the eastern side of Vermilion which is in much need of a coordinated plan for updating and positioning for future development. While this study is a fully decorated Christmas tree of possibilities, it gives the Administration and Council the opportunity to identify those immediately achievable features that we want to go forward with and make needed improvements to the Rt. 6 Corridor. This plan is an extension of the Lorain County Connectivity Plan.”
The following is excerpts from the Lorain County US Route 6 Corridor Report prepared June 13, 2019.
The City of Vermilion and Lorain County maintain a strong and symbiotic relationship, each looking to increase economic prosperity for the region. Ongoing evaluations of communities along Lake Erie’s shoreline has brought to the forefront concerns over mobility options and economic development opportunities that both the County and City are eager to address.
Following the rent completion of the Lakefront Connectivity TLCI Plan, the portion of Route 6 within the City of Vermilion was identified as an opportunity area to increase pedestrian amenities and create cohesion along this important corridor for the region. Lorain County responded in kind to this recommendation and instigated a deeper evaluation of the corridor within Vermilion in order to address not only the mobility concerns but also the community’s opportunity.
Following completion of the TLCI Plan, Lorain County and the City of Vermilion are looking to expand upon its findings and spur economic development in the region. This report offers a general overview of conditions and collection of recommendations for next steps.
The general study area for this report included the extent of the City of Vermilion within Lorain County, with special attention given to US Route 6. The City of Vermilion straddles the county line of Erie and Lorain County and is located on the shore of Lake Erie between the communities of Berlin Township and the City of Lorain. US Route 6 runs along the general lakefront shoreline.
Proposed Cross Section
Given US 6 is a major arterial with a speed limit of 50 mph on the majority of its length, a cross section with a 10’ shared use path or sidewalk in narrower areas, and a 5’ buffer outside of the vehicle travel lanes and no on street bike lanes is recommended at this time. This cross section will provide continuity along the route as the section west of the railroad bridge is narrower and, in some areas, has existing sidewalks.
There are several factors that need to be taken into account for the determination of the roadway cross-section, including speed limit and if the section is or will be curbed or remain uncurbed with shoulders and ditches for drainage. The table below summarizes the cross section widths that meet ODOT standards for speeds less than and greater than 50 mph and for curbed and uncurbed roadways. As shown in the table below, with a speed limit less than 50 mph and curbs, the total width for the roadway is reduced.
A cursory look at the existing right-of-way widths throughout the study area was performed to determine what width of cross-section could fit within the existing right of way and what type of drainage would be required. The speed limit along US 6 in the study area changes from 40 mph to 50 mph. It is possible to lower the speed limit on the eastern portion of US 6, however a speed study would need to be performed to show that the section “warrants” a lower speed. Depending on future development, a lower speed may be preferred and may meet the “warrants”.
In the narrowest ROW section (110’), only a curbed cross-section with a 40 mph speed limit would fit without purchasing right-of-way. A design exception would be needed to reduce lane widths in the section of US 6 with a speed limit of 50 mph as 12 foot lanes are required at speeds over 50 mph It is possible current lane widths could be maintained, provided a crash analysis showed that there was not a crash history attributed to the narrow lanes. Additionally, improvements along the corridor will need to comply with ADA requirements for curb ramps and assure the minimum slopes for bicycle and pedestrian use.
The current corridor is lacking any aesthetic improvements to enhance the look of the corridor. There are many levels of aesthetic treatments that could be added to the corridor to improve its appeal and also promote economic development. Improvements such as planted medians, bioswales and tree lawns would add “green” infrastructure to the corridor which provides both function and aesthetic.
Planted medians would not only provide aesthetics, but assist in controlling access and reduce conflict points, thus improving safety along the corridor. Planted medians along this US route would have to meet ODOT standards for “clear zones”. In the 50 mph section of the corridor on the eastern end, plantings in the median would need to be small shrubs and flowers of 18 inch height or less. Trees can be considered in medians in the 40 mph areas and a minimum of five foot width of median or tree lawn is recommended to accommodate the trees and their proper growth.
Planted medians provide an opportunity for stormwater management in the form of a bioswale or rain garden. These medians could be installed along the corridor and, as stormwater management would then already be provide for future development, an upcharge from a standard median could be applied as development occurs in the area. These medians are both an enhancement and an incentive as developer would not have to utilize their site property for stormwater management. The cost installing a bioswale rain garden is approximately $25-35/square foot as opposed to $15/sf for concrete median.
Another opportunity area for aesthetic treatment is the Norfolk and Southern Bridge. The existing bridge parapets are standard concrete with traditional fencing on top. Fencing treatments and modern lighting fixtures could be added to enhance the bridge and provide consistency between the sections of US 6 on the west and east sides of the bridge.
Other aesthetic improvements could include street furniture, upgraded lighting, and bridge enhancements. These features could promoting pedestrian activity and economic development along the corridor as they make the corridor more enjoyable to travel along.
Major intersections/access management
In the study area, there are four signalized intersections.
• Salem Drive
• Giant Eagle
• Overlook Drive
• Sunnyside Road
The signals at Salem Drive and Overlook Drive, both local roads, provide access to residential neighborhoods and have limited north-south connectivity. The Giant Eagle signal provides access to commercial development on both the north and south side of US 6. The signalized intersection of Sunnyside Road, which is a major collector, has north-south connectivity.
A ½ to 1 mile spacing between signals is typically desired to allow good progression of traffic through signal coordination. The Salem Drive and Giant Eagle Drive signals are very closely spaced with 765 feet between them. Spacing between the Giant Eagle Drive and Overlook Drive signals and between the Overlook Drive and Sunnyside signals are close to 1 mile spacing.
Consideration should be given to preparation of an access management plan for the corridor to identify locations to consolidate or provide cross easements between properties, provide backage roads with access to signalized intersections and/or medians to control access along the corridor. This will serve as a roadmap for the corridor as development continues to provide safe and efficient access, which is attractive to businesses.
Additionally, the use of drive consolidation and backage roads would allow more area businesses and residents to use a safer, signalize intersection to access US 6. An example would be connection Portland Drive and Morton Road on the north side of US 6 to the business drives so that residents can utilize the signal at Giant Eagle.
Land use recommendations
Based on the current conditions of the Route 6 corridor and surrounding land uses, several recommendations for improvements have been made. After evaluating the initial study area of the Route 6 corridor, opportunity sites and connections were identified outside of the study area causing a shift in vision for the plan. The following sections highlight the broader and long-term vision for the area as well as specific site locations for revitalization and reuse.
The overall goal of such proposed redevelopment scenarios would be to simultaneously create opportunity for new investment in the community while promoting the character residents already know and love. The communities along US Route 6 can aid one another in spurring economic development and creating a cohesive plan for such is the first step. The proposed land use changes herein are meant to capitalize on existing assets, create opportunities for new jobs, and further strengthen the economic viability of this important corridor.
Study area Recommendations
In order to create income-generating opportunities along the US Route 6 corridor, a handful of sites were studied for the appropriateness of redevelopment. Of the five sites studied for potential redevelopment, several had recently been acquired or sold for new developments and were therefore not pursued within this study. Two larger sites with direct frontage to the corridor were identified for potential medical office development and example site designs have been provided. In addition to the site-specific recommendations, a large swath of land south of US Route 6 and north of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad along Vermilion’s eastern border with Lorain has been identified for future industrial. This proposed site location for industrial will align with similar uses along nearby Baumhart Rd in the City of Lorain, thereby limiting any potential noxious uses to one contiguous area with little to no residential land in the vicinity.
The grouping of these intensive uses in the same vicinity also allows all heavy truck traffic to be relegated to one access road from US Route 6 to State Route 2; thus allowing other roadways with residential frontage to remain undisturbed by increased traffic.
The proposed next phase of repositioning land in Vermilion to increase income-generating uses takes advantage of the existing freeway interchange at Route 2 and Vermilion Interchange Road. It is recommended this land be marketed to developers for high-end mixed use and office campuses providing a new access road linking Route 2 to Sunnyside Road and up to Route 6. This new access road and Sunnyside Rd would become the new and aesthetically improved entry into Vermilion for residents, visitors, and employees.
These uses were identified due to the existing interchange infrastructure and accompanying visibility of the highway frontage for commercial uses as well as the community’s desire to protect and maintain the residential area south of the railroad and north of SR-2 along Brownhelm Station Road. The proposed roadway connections will help with improved access to existing interstates and increased economic viability.
Two sites were selected for potential future development. It is recommended that prior to pursuing the recommended development that a market study be performed to evaluate the appropriateness and market availability of the future uses. The following pages provide a more detailed analysis of the chosen sites and recommended improvements.
Each of the site designs utilizes the required setback distances as outlined in the current City of Vermilion Zoning Code; however, if development of a higher density or different aesthetic is desired along the corridor, a review and update to the Zoning Code is recommended.
Site 1 was selected to display a possible future development due in large part to its size, location, and development-ready attributes. The site is currently vacant with approximately 775ft of frontage along the Route 6 corridor and a total of 35 acres. Approximately half the length of the parcel is bordered by land owned by the Lorain County MetroParks to the west, providing scenic vistas and greenery for the proposed office buildings. Identified as a favorable land use during the planning process, the site design displays medical office in a configuration that takes advantage of adjacent views, limits access to one point of ingress/egress from Route 6, and buffers the adjacent neighborhood to the east with well-landscaped parking. Depending on the end-user and parking requirements, the buildings are proposed to be anywhere from 2 to 4 stories in height with landscaped grounds and a 10’ sidewalk along the corridor.
Similar to Site 1, Site 2 was identified as an ideal site for medical office development along the important Route 6 corridor. This site layout takes advantage of the Lake Haven Estates Reservoir and provides a walking path along the water for employees and visitors of the office park. Additional landscaping is shown throughout the parking area and site to elevate this area to a professional campus.
It should be noted that the total acreage reflected here includes the Reservoir as well as significant land south of the waterbody. The planning team’s recommendation is to utilize as much of the frontage along Route 6 for commercial use, and allow residential to occur in less commercially-viable areas. Access to the site is limited to one point of ingress/egress to minimize traffic concerns that could arise from a multitude of curb cuts on the corridor.
In closing the presentation at the council committee meeting, it was stated that the city is currently looking into funding options for parts of this plan, and identified internet reliability as a need for the east end of town that needs to be looked in to.