A South Euclid official was cited in today’s Sun Press as saying the city needs to rezone the former Oakwood Club property because “in other developments in the area, when a developer is turned down for rezoning, it opens the door to a possible lawsuit against the city. That, he said, could cost taxpayers millions of dollars, as in the case of the Costco development in Mayfield Heights several years ago.”
South Euclid is not the first city to use this excuse, nor will it be the last. I’m certain I’ve heard the same thing from the mouths of Cleveland Heights officials from time to time, though I don’t recall the specific instances.
Nothing makes me angrier, as a citizen, than this feeble excuse for a government choosing not to do its job.
The statement implies that it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks about the proposal, because rolling over and letting it happen is a legal inevitability. It’s designed to absolve the city’s elected council from responsibility for a decision that, by all appearances, it has already decided to make.
Cities have master plans and zoning codes precisely because they are allowed – no, expected – to deliberate over issues like this one. They are expected to consider the best long-term interests of the community. They are expected to concern themselves with the desires of the people who live in adjacent neighborhoods. They are expected to reflect the values of their citizens. They are expected to stand up to outside influences that conflict with those interests, desires and values.
In America, anybody can sue anybody at any time for anything. That threat is no reason to abdicate your job.
If the would-be developer of Oakwood were to be denied a zoning change and then sue, it’s not a given that he would win. He bought residentially zoned land, and is asking for a dramatic change in its allowed use. While the land abuts a commercial area on its north end, it abuts residential neighborhoods on its other three sides. Its current zoning is supported by a long-term city planning document.
So if South Euclid officials really believed they could do better than the proposed development, it would be their job to deny the rezoning request.
On the other hand, if South Euclid’s council members really believe that accommodating this first and only proposal for the property is the best thing that they can do as representatives of their community, then they should say so and live with the consequences of that position.
But don’t hide behind the ridiculous argument that legal precedent forbids you from doing your job.
To their credit, a few of them have already said they favor this development. To their discredit, they were saying so back in February, before even the first public discussion of the matter had been held.
Nothing – even the voices of their own constituents – appears likely to change their minds.
Postscript: I’ve been asked why, as a Cleveland Heights resident, I think that I have any right to comment on the inner workings of South Euclid.
- This will impact my community too, in ways that I’ve already documented.
- I’m simply preparing for the possibility that, in six months to a year, I’ll be able to reuse all of this copy, simply by deleting “South Euclid” wherever it appears and replacing it with “Cleveland Heights.”