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Chemicals found underground have likely been there since the 1950s

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Posted at 5:54 PM, Jan 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-31 11:59:33-05

LAKEWOOD, Ohio — A huge development in Lakewood is nearly clear of another speed bump, on its way to creating a $140 million, mixed-use space in the middle of the city's downtown.

There hasn't been a lot of action on the land between Marlowe and Belle Avenues, on Detroit Avenue, in the last few weeks.

It's where One Lakewood Place will eventually be built.

In September, workers found potentially harmful dry cleaning chemicals in the ground.

"I wasn't scared or anything, but that's when I realized it was going to take a lot longer with the deconstruction than they planned on," said Bridget Birdketter, who lives across the street.

"It was disappointing that we found the unexpected issues, but it's not uncommon," said City of Lakewood Director of Planning and Development Bryce Sylvester.

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A slide from a city presentation shows how the first hospital buildings used a small part of what is now a nearly 6-acre piece of land.

He says regulations for dry cleaning chemicals weren't made until the 1970s, so the city thinks these chemicals first got into the ground in the 1950s.

Sylvester says the chemicals been removed now, costing the project $1,725,000. Lakewood is waiting on final approval from the EPA, confirming that the clean up is complete. It hopes new construction can begin as early as the spring.

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Lakewood Hospital inpatient services ended in January 2016.

The only sign of them moving forward will be a vapor mitigation system that now has to be included in the project.

"The system is actually fairly simple to install but just where it goes and how it's implemented is what we have to figure out," said Sylvester.

The work was covered by a fund set aside for the project so Sylvester says taxpayers aren't on the hook for it.

It comes after a summer Birdketter said was filled with loud construction equipment, strong vibrations that might have damaged some of her neighbor's homes, and a lot of dust that drifted across the street from the construction site.

"When they were really tearing into the building and parts of it were falling, dust would come up," said Birdsetter.

The project website says the project will eventually put 200 housing units, 12 townhomes, 100,000 square feet of office space, 84,000 square feet of retail, along with a public square along Detroit Avenue, just a few blocks from an already-thriving downtown Lakewood district.

Sylvester predicts the long-term legacy of the project will be how it brought many more people to the existing businesses.

For Birdketter, it's hard to see that future through the construction across the street.

"It's too far still," said Birdketter. "There's still enough going on that I don't think I'll be able to see that until I see more construction."

Sylvester says the commercial part of the project could be finished in about two years but the whole project might not be finished for a few years after that.

"We're trying to stay very close to that neighborhood who is feeling this quite a bit differently than the rest of the city," said Sylvester, referring to Birdsetter and her neighbors.