The historic Oakwood Country Club, a swath of 150 acres of beautiful open space straddling Cleveland Heights and South Euclid, was sold to local developer First Interstate Properties on December 31. Two weeks later the South Euclid City Council began the rezoning process of 40 acres of residentially zoned land to build big box retail, drive-through restaurants, and lots and lots of parking. Oakwood Commons, if it is built in its entirety, will have a 60 acre footprint. Compare to Severance Town Center’s 70 acres and you can see just how vast the area is.
The big picture is out there…somewhere
The developer promises a green big box, and has liberally sprinkled the word “sustainable” throughout its marketing materials to describe various aspects of the project, including a parcel of land behind the loading docks that will be turned over to the city for public use.
But what does “sustainable” mean?
Is building a state of the art storm water detention basin to handle massive runoff created by the building of 40 acres of new asphalt, bricks, and mortar considered sustainable? The developer indicates this construction will be LEED (Leadership for Energy in Environmental Design) certified. What are the various levels of LEED certification, and what level will this project achieve? Should the project be required to attain a higher level rating? Because city services are stretched to the limit where will the money come from to maintain a public park on land that the developer has decided is not of use, and will generously donate to South Euclid in exchange for a tax-deduction and an easement for the required storm water detention area (that seems to take up half the donated land)?
If Wal-Mart vacates their Severance Center space in Cleveland Heights to move 2500 feet away, which leaves a big empty building that few have use for, how is that a sustainable action? If Cleveland Heights loses 300 jobs to South Euclid what makes that green?
I keep hearing the anguished voice of a homeowner at the March South Euclid public hearing. She lives in one of those nice suburban bungalow homes on Warrensville Center Road, across from the old golf course. She stood and declared that if the Oakwood development is allowed “I won’t be able to sell my home”. I am curious as to where the members of the South Euclid Planning Commission and the South Euclid City Council reside. Do any of them live on Warrensville Center Road, or on any of the streets adjacent to the property?
Here’s a weird below the radar fact: The tax revenue going to the schools from this project goes not to the South Euclid-Lyndhurst School District, as many South Euclid residents would believe, but to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District, even though two-thirds of the development’s footprint is in South Euclid. The developer’s own marketing materials, a brochure sent to South Euclid residents, says “$1.1 million to the local schools”, but they don’t say whose local schools. Are South Euclid residents aware of this?
These are just some of the questions I’d like to have answered.
There are plenty more out there from residents of both Cleveland Heights and South Euclid. City planners and decision makers ignore them at their peril. And because this portion of the development is technically over the border in South Euclid, Cleveland Heights residents asking hard questions are being relegated to onlooker status.
Looking at the big picture when a large retail development arrives in a residential neighborhood takes time, independent study of quality of life impacts, and allowing homeowners and stakeholders in the area greater opportunity to have a genuine hand in the decision to let a Big Box be built in their front and back yards.
Unfortunately, with the South Euclid rezoning process headed to the finish line in record time, most of these discussion points seem rather moot. If the property is rezoned through emergency legislation in the next few weeks, after an obligatory final public hearing on May 25, I assume the citizens of South Euclid will be able to have a say in November at the polls, as I hear a referendum movement is gathering.
And while all eyes are on the South Euclid process at the moment, the City of Cleveland Heights is still waiting to be approached by the developer, who I understand has not yet closed on the deal to purchase that portion of the property. There’s a lot more to come on both sides of the fence. Stay tuned for Oakwood Commons Part II: The Cleveland Heights Side.
The final public hearing before the South Euclid City Council’s vote to accept changes to its Comprehensive Plan is Wednesday, May 18 at 6:00 pm at South Euclid City Hall.
The final public hearing before the emergency rezoning vote by the South Euclid City Council is Wednesday, May 25 at South Euclid City Hall at 6:00 pm.
1349 South Green Road, South Euclid.
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