Oakwood: The developer is starting to sound angry

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First Interstate's postcard: Heads I win, tails you lose

The rhetoric around the Oakwood project is starting to get silly.

Opponents of the development are distributing information that says it will destroy the community, which strikes me as hyperbole. And they’ve declared that because nobody is denying a rumor that Wal-Mart will occupy the space, then it’s a done deal that Wal-Mart will occupy the space – which strikes me as premature and largely irrelevant. (Nobody denies the space will be occupied by some major big-box retail chain; and really, how is one more or less objectionable than another?)

But the movement against the development seems to be getting under the skin of First Interstate President Mitchell Schneider, who until now has been a gentleman in his rhetoric.

In the Plain Dealer on March 9, he referred to his opponents as a “small, vocal, somewhat fringe minority” – which leads me to wonder what percentage of mainstream constitutes “somewhat fringe.” While some of the personalities taking a lead in opposing the development may be less polished than Schneider, I’ve heard from enough people who don’t want this development to believe the sentiment is anything but fringe.

I don’t view Schneider as a bad guy in this drama. He is a developer, doing what developers do: Turning vacant land into occupied land for which others will pay rent. I’ve never met him, I’ve never sought him out for a conversation; and I’ve already stated that as a developer he’s better than most in that he seems to keep promises, and he’s the rare breed willing to put up his own money to get a project started.

But he also seems to be taking off the gloves now, and it’s going to test his credibility.

For example, in the same Plain Dealer article, someone complained that comments from First Interstate employees were stricken from the Facebook site dedicated to preserving Oakwood. As if an organization built around a specific cause is obligated to give voice to its opponents.

Who lodged this complaint? Count the sources in the story and you’ll reach the conclusion that the whining came from Schneider himself.

More telling is the attempt by First Interstate to gauge public sentiment about the project. In a mailer sent to a reported 13,000 residents (You can see it here: Oakwood Commons mailer) Schneider included a postcard; he asked those who favored the project to check “Yes” and mail it in.

About 170 people did; for direct mail, that kind of response rate isn’t awful, but it is underwhelming.

Another 20 or so people used the postcard as an opportunity to voice their displeasure – an option that First Interstate’s mailing never offered. Here’s the thought process of one person who received the mailer and chose not to respond at all.

You can see the actual postcard here; it’s a wonder anyone used it to say “No”

Such a trial balloon is normal and reasonable, as long as it’s used in context. But the address printed on this post-card is that of the South Euclid zoning department (I don’t know who paid the postage); each response is now being touted as evidence of near-unanimous support for Schneider’s project – a conclusion that strikes me as stretching the very fabric of reality.

And if you want a better view of what Schneider is willing to defend as “preservation,” take a look at the photos – in his own Oakwood Commons mailer – of the preservation at Cleveland’s Steelyard Commons. I’ve been to that development (though I’m getting less likely to ever go there again); there are some industrial artifacts, but this is not the kind of green space anybody uses.

It’s silly.

I’ve never wanted to see big box development on the Oakwood site. But I felt far more charitable to Schneider and his company before they began defending it.


  1. Sarah Wean says

    It’s difficult to read the card, but the Name/Address/Info for the person submitting a survey card is optional. Unless you have real names and info to go with these submissions they are worthless.

    Thanks for the post, Bob.

  2. Citizens for Oakwood says

    Another important piece of information about the postcard and the addresses came out on Thursday night at the Planning Commission meeting.
    The city of South Euclid had a map on display that marked the addresses of the postcards that were returned.

    They had the legend of the map indicating the addresses of the cards on which people listed their name and address and those that DID NOT. So, the cards were coded with address information. The city and the developer know the address of each card because of the code put on the card at the printers.

    Also, Bob. I don’t think we know that the developer is using his own money. Maybe First Interstate bought the land, but we do not know anything yet about the financing to build the retail buildings.

    We learned about the global nature of money by what happened with sub-prime mortgages and the financial collapse of Lehman Brothers, AIG, etc. I doubt that there is any personal risk to this developer and he no doubt has an international investment group behind him.

    We do not oppose development. We want it in the right place.

  3. says

    An interesting follow up to this comes in the form of a letter from Richard Sones, a CH resident in the Oakwood neighborhood, to the South Euclid planning commission. While he carries no legal standing in South Euclid, he provides well thought-out review of the McKenna Report – prepared to justify the devevelopment.
    In it, points out contradictions in the report with South Euclid’s own masterplan. He also highlights assertions in the report that are based on potentially faulty assumptions; and others that are simply false. You can read it here:

  4. Joe J. Liptow says

    On March 17th 2011 the Sun Messenger misused the LEED acronym in a lead story that promoted the commercial development of Oakwood Country Club. The proper acronym to use is LEED not LEEDS. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. No “S” is required. I would like to quote the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED Sustainable Site Credit SS-1. “Avoid development of inappropriate sites and reduce the environmental impact from the location of a building on a site”. It goes on to list criteria where development should plainly not take place. Now it may be possible for a city, a newspaper, and a developer (ie: Mr. Schneider and his global investors) to twist the intent of LEED SS-1 in order to further the pro-development agenda and maneuver a “spot-zoning” change of residential to commercial land but I think that’s gaining the system and inappropriate. Your readers may be familiar with Margret Mead’s famous quote, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. For a community paper to dismiss and belittle a group of community “activist” is disturbing to me. Actually both sides at this point are rather small but one seems to be long on cash and short on thoughtfulness. We contend that keeping Oakwood from the developer’s big-box ideas is indeed changing the world for the better. Contrasting a minimally developed natural setting at Oakwood with a first class robust commercial development at Cedar Center would bring great synergy to the community. This would provide a place for people to experience two very different forms of diversion in their busy lives. We “activist” are not against development and we are not all from Cleveland Heights. True, Cedar Center will cost more to develop but that’s not the fault of our residents. Man-up and woman-up people and take on the Brownfield NOT the Greenfield [i.e.: Develop Cedar Center and NOT Oakwood].
    Joe J. Liptow, P.E., LEED-AP – South Euclid – m#216-538-0470


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