Oakwood developer objects to community forum

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Submitted to the Heights Observer on behalf of Mitchell Schneider:

Dear Heights Observer –

Attached  you will find a letter from Mitchell Schneider, President of First Interstate Properties, objecting to the recently announced FutureHeights Forum currently scheduled to take place on Thursday, April 7.  The forum is set to discuss “the issues and long-term implications of redevelopment projects such as that being proposed on the former Oakwood Club property.”

Sincerely,

Susan Windle, Marketing Coordinator
First Interstate Properties

April 4, 2011

Lloyd Bell, President
FutureHeights
2163 Lee Road, Suite 103
Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118

Dear Mr. Bell,

I write to express my objection to the FutureHeights Community Forum, “Land Use and Oakwood,” scheduled for Thursday, April 7 at 7:00 p.m.  I hope you will consider postponing that forum for these reasons:

  1. If you truly want an open discussion about the proposed Oakwood development, all sides should be represented. I would have been most happy to sit on the panel, present my plan for the former Oakwood Country Club and take questions from the audience.  However, you did not invite me.  In fact, I only found out about this yesterday, by chance.
  2. Your forum is to take place at the same time as a work session of the South Euclid Planning Commission, effectively precluding me from participating.  In an email exchange with Bob Rosenbaum from FutureHeights, Mr. Rosenbaum told me that the South Euclid Planning Commission Schedule had been checked.  However, when I went to that website, I immediately saw the conflict.  I must note the South Euclid Planning Commission meeting was added by the Commission during its meeting on March 24, before plans for the FutureHeights forum were posted on the Observer web site.  I would additionally note that several parties active with the Heights Observer and FutureHeights were present at the March 24 meeting of the South Euclid Planning Commission.
  3. Your meeting announcement says, “Forum speakers will address the following topics: Retail needs and opportunities in Cleveland’s eastern suburbs; housing trends, needs, and opportunities in older suburbs; and long-term and regional perspectives in balancing the needs for green space, maintaining high quality of life, and sustainable revenue streams for local governments.”  However, after I called Bob Rosenbaum to share my concerns, you left me a voicemail message back explicitly stating  that the Forum wasn’t related to the actual development, and/or whether the Oakwood Club should be developed as a retail facility, but that the focus was “How can we get the citizens of Cleveland Heights, University Heights and South Euclid to be involved in the decision-making process and how can we get the cities to be more responsive to what the community needs may be.”  Mr. Bell, it remains unclear to me whether your forum is intended to consider what you have listed on the FutureHeights website, or are your goals the ones you articulated on my voicemail, which I interpret as clearly excluding my participation?  It would also seem that your organization is excluding the residents of South Euclid who have been neither notified nor invited to attend your forum. (Your website explicitly states that your organization serves Cleveland Heights and University Heights.)
  4. It appears clear to me that your forum is not intended to take the needs of South Euclid residents into consideration.  As stated many times by members of the South Euclid city administration and commissions, South Euclid intends to increase its commercial tax base and provide additional green space in its efforts to become a sustainable community.  Furthermore, South Euclid officials have stated that First Interstate’s plans for the proposed commercial and dedicated parkland development in South Euclid achieve both of these objectives.  In fact, the primary opposition to the South Euclid project, at both the Planning Commission meetings and the South Euclid ward meetings, comes almost exclusively from Cleveland Heights residents.
  5. The City of South Euclid has provided many open community meetings for its residents to have input into the process.  There have been at least six open Planning Commission meetings, as well as a formal Public Hearing in South Euclid, as well as a City Council meeting with the public comment portion open to the public on this proposal.

Mr. Bell, you have selected a distinguished panel of experts to serve on the April 7 panel.  How they can offer constructive comment on the proposed Oakwood Commons project is a puzzle, since, to my knowledge, none of them have been provided with full and correct information about the project.  As mentioned, I am more than happy to meet with members of your organization and members of the public who are interested in hearing both sides of the issue and participating in a civil discussion. I just ask that you hold that meeting at a time when we do not have a clear and public scheduling conflict.

Of course, you and your organization are certainly entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.  I welcome an opportunity to share those facts with you and your organization.

Sincerely,

Mitchell Schneider, President
First Interstate Company

_______________________________________________

FutureHeights President Lloyd Bell responds:

April 5, 2011

Mitchell Schneider, President
First Interstate Properties, Ltd.
The Offices at Legacy Village
25333 Cedar Road, Suite 300
Lyndhurst, OH 44124

Dear Mr. Schneider,

FutureHeights is committed to promoting opportunities for citizens to become educated on issues within their community and gives them a voice to participate in the public process. Because the planned redevelopment of the former Oakwood County Club property has begun a conversation on the topic, we have decided to host a community forum on April 7 to discuss the citizens’ role in the decision-making process on future land use and development.

Your letter to me dated April 4 mischaracterizes the intent of our forum and makes claims that I’d like to address.

1. The purpose of this forum is to discuss future development and land use needs in the East Side communities of Cleveland Heights, University Heights and South Euclid. Our organization believes that the citizens of a community should be involved in the decision-making process regarding future land use and development. I cannot stress enough that this refers to any parcel of land in our communities. Note that in the description of our forum on the Heights Observer website that it clearly states “redevelopment projects such as that being proposed on the former Oakwood Club property.” As you can appreciate, Oakwood represents just one of many locations that have been discussed for redevelopment. As such, we chose to invoke its name in our publicity.

We do not wish to host a forum specifically on the topic of Oakwood, as we view the public meetings hosted by the City of South Euclid as serving that purpose.

2. The selection of the date for our forum was made based on the availability of our panelists. We tried to be mindful of any conflicting meetings of the city councils and school boards of the three cities included in our discussion. In addition, we checked the City of South Euclid’s website which listed their next Planning Commission meeting as being on April 14th. The posted document named Planning Commission’s Oakwood Agenda 2011 – Part 2 only listed the April 14th date. Furthermore, their events calendar did not list anything on April 7th. Both Keith Benjamin, South Euclid’s Community Relations Director, and David Miller, South Euclid’s City Council President, had conversations about our planned forum with one of our Board members and neither mentioned a conflict on that date. Any conflict with the Planning Commission’s working meeting was unintentional, and discovered after our panelists confirmed their availability and I extended invitations to the council representatives of the three cities.

3. I believe my responses to your first two points should reiterate that the focus of our forum is not about Oakwood specifically but rather future development in general. If your interpretation of our announcement leads you to believe otherwise, the misunderstanding is unintentional. We are not attempting to prevent you or anyone from First Interstate from having a voice in the discussion. In fact, I would encourage you to send a representative, as your company is an important party when we look at the changing nature of Cleveland and its inner-ring suburbs.

We have taken several steps to include residents of South Euclid. A press release announcing the forum was sent to the Plain Dealer, the Sun Press newspaper and local radio stations. We can only control the publication of the release in our own media, the Heights Observer. Your assumption that we are excluding South Euclid residents is unfounded.

FutureHeights is an organization that supports the residents of Cleveland Heights and University Heights. We have included the residents of South Euclid in this dialog because, as your proposed development indicates, future land use in Cleveland Heights and University Heights has an impact on South Euclid.

4. I agree with you that the one of the roles of a city administration is to ensure financial solvency. South Euclid’s elected representatives are expected be fiscally responsible to their constituents, just as we expect the officials from Cleveland Heights and University Heights to do the same. Balancing city revenue needs and community priorities is fundamental to future land use. What we are interested in discussing is that, apart from the outcome, the process of determining that land use is important and citizens should be involved in the decisions that affect them with a full understanding of its revenue impact. Furthermore, any decisions regarding development should take into consideration long-term implications as well as the short-term benefits. Our concerns lie in the fact that what happens in one community has a direct impact on its surrounding communities.

5. I’m glad that South Euclid has provided a number of community meetings on the topic of the Oakwood development and hope that they continue to operate in an open manner. What we are hoping to achieve in hosting our forum is to get citizens to learn about the pros and cons of future development and to participate in future planning of proposals such as yours.

We are pleased with the caliber of the individuals who have agreed to participate in our community forum. You are correct that they will not be able to comment on specific aspects of your proposed development as we are not interested in arguing the merits for or against the development of Oakwood. That discussion belongs in the public meetings hosted by the cities of South Euclid and Cleveland Heights. What our panelists will be able to discuss is how cities with shrinking populations, aging housing stock and limited resources can continue to be viable communities in the face of outward migration.

If a representative of your company is unable to attend our forum, I would invite you to check back to the Heights Observer website where we hope to have a video recording of the event.

Sincerely,

Lloyd Bell
President, Board of Directors
FutureHeights

Comments

  1. says

    Speaking only for myself, I want to set the record straight on Mitchell Schneider’s portrayal of my communication with him. Despite the implication in his letter, I have never spoken with Mitchell Schneider, nor have I ever sought him out. We did NOT have a conversation, which is what any reasonable reader of his letter would think. He left me a voicemail message early Sunday morning. I sent him a brief e-mail in response several hours later. My only reference to the April 7 conflict was to say that I knew it was unintentional, and that I personally had been unaware of the South Euclid working session until he had pointed it out to me in the voicemail message. Even then, the meeting was not listed on S. Euclid’s published events calendar (http://www.cityofsoutheuclid.com/about-south-euclid/event-calendar.html); it remains unlisted as of this moment, though I readily acknowledge that, upon seeing Mitchell Schneider’s accusation, I was able to find an agenda for April 7 on the planning commission’s web page. Mr. Schneider must know his portrayal of our very brief dialogue is inaccurate, because my half of it was done in writing. And yet he is intentionally spreading the falsehood to undermine a legitimate effort to create an educational opportunity about land use.
    I also told him that I was not directly involved in the forum planning – precisely because I’ve already taken a position on the quality of the public process behind his development. (My comments on the process are among the best read to date on this website.) It would seem a relevant point, since his multiple references to me in his letter imply a role on my part that – as I’ve told him – doesn’t exist.
    The bigger deal in my mind is the way Mitchell Schneider confuses the issues of public policy with a developer’s right to be at the center stage of anything that mentions the word Oakwood. He may be buying the land, but he cannot quash dialogue or debate about the related governance issues that members of the community may desire to discuss.

  2. Laurel962 says

    LOL, this is about like reading that the FOX is very upset that the chicken was not present in the hen house on the exact date that the FOX wanted to kill and eat the chicken.

    I went to that meeting, which was worthless, because the moderator and speakers did HANDSTANDS to avoid talking about Oakwood, which was all the audience wanted to discuss. Clearly, Mr. Schneider had terrified the speakers out of discussing this important issue.

    That says volumes about who is in control, and who is driving this discussion. It also foreshadows what we will be experiencing once this “Master Fox” has gutted and destroyed the natural resources of our two communities and lined his pockets with gold, and departs, laughing at our naivete.

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