301 N. Mulberry St.

The old Mount Vernon middle school property on North Mulberry Street has been vacant for the last 20-plus years.

MOUNT VERNON – Mount Vernon’s Board of Zoning Appeals approved conditional use permits on Wednesday for the construction of residential units and a fitness center at the former middle school property on 301 N. Mulberry St.

Mulberry MV, LLC’s Jason Gunsorek, property owner, and attorney Noel Alden brought their case to the Municipal Planning Commission on June 14 in an effort to redistrict the property from an NC Neighborhood Commercial District to an R-3 Multiple Family District.

Rob Broeren

City law director Rob Broeren (center) offers insight while attorney Noel Alden (right) requests conditional use permits during the Mount Vernon Board of Zoning Appeals meeting on Wednesday. 

It was then determined that a fitness center would not be allowed in an R-3 Multiple Family District, although residences could be allowed in an NC Neighborhood Commercial District if Gunsorek were to request conditional use permits.

This led Alden and Gunsorek to withdraw their application and request conditional use permits, which they were granted on Wednesday.

“Now that this is approved, we’re going to need to get with civil engineers to lay out the detailed plan (for the property),” Alden said afterwards.

The city will next look at the specifics of the property plan and decide if it needs any additional zoning approvals before being taken through multiple levels of inspection by the health department and state officials.

Alden said that engineers have told Gunsorek that he should be able to rehabilitate the old school without having to tear it down, and that the building is “sound.”

“We have a lot of work to do,” Alden said. “But the great thing is that the structural integrity of the structure itself is actually very good.”

While Alden said that Gunsorek would like to get moving on rehabilitating the property as quickly as possible, he is not certain how long the approval process will take.

The board had no problem issuing conditional use permits based on the fact that the property would have a residential feel, coinciding with the neighboring properties, which are mainly single-family homes and condominiums.

Under the city’s zoning code, conditional use permits are allowed for residential properties that are zoned as NC Commercial. In addition, the zoning code also allows conditional permits for fitness centers on NC Commercial properties.

According to the statement within Alden’s request for permits, Gunsorek would like to turn the school’s auditorium into a gym, open to complex tenants and the public at a monthly membership rate of $79 per member. The gym will feature a mix of CrossFit and group training and will also utilize the outdoor area to the rear of the auditorium.

Wednesday’s permit approval brings Gunsorek one step closer to redeveloping what Alden termed an “eyesore” in the community.

The old middle school has been vacant for the last 20 years, since the Mount Vernon Board of Education sold the school in 1998. The structure is worn down and notorious for housing the area’s homeless, which has led to multiple fires.

Several contractors have wrestled with the property over the years, sometimes putting in new windows or roofing, although none have followed through with fully redeveloping the building. Gunsorek assured the planning commission last month he would not follow the same path.

“We’re looking for these types of projects. I know there’s a lot of history around people coming in with plans, but we’re not doing this to mow the grass and put a fence around the property,” Gunsorek said last month. “We’re doing it to develop it, and develop it we will.”

Mulberry MV, LLC has owned the property since 2015. Gunsorek's company has redeveloped multiple properties in a similar fashion across the state of Ohio, including one in Mansfield and one in Fremont.

The proposed complex on North Mulberry Street would contain one, two and three-bedroom units, with monthly rent costing $775 at minimum, Alden said Wednesday.

Alden noted that Gunsorek is not interested in offering metro or subsidized housing in the complex, as he is not familiar with that business model.

Although the conditional use permits were granted quickly on Wednesday, three members of the community voiced their concerns over the potential development of the property.

Both Terri Leighty and Richard Fox questioned the type of people that might be living in the complex, although the board informed them that those issues would not be considered at a zoning meeting.

James Hoey, who lives across the street from the school and attended the planning commission meeting with his girlfriend in June, repeated concerns about asbestos and mold that might arise during the construction process. He was also told by the board that his concerns were not relevant to the issuing of conditional use permits.

Before permits were issued, however, Alden went back to the podium to address the public's concerns.

“Obviously, this has been an eyesore in the community for a period of time,” he said.

Alden stressed that this would be a “high-end” complex and that Gunsorek’s firm already has the time, resources and commitment to make sure that all health concerns will be addressed during the remodeling process.

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Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.