South Euclid voters have had their say, and by a 55%-45% result, have approved commercial rezoning of the portion of the former Oakwood golf course that lies within their city.
In a year or so, we’re all going to have another large plaza to visit, filled with minimum-wage employees and merchandise manufactured in Chinese sweat shops. I remember a time when sensible people sniffed at such employment prospects and distrusted such merchandise.
This, of course, is only one of many strong opinions I’ve expressed about the Oakwood property since First Interstate committed to buying it just about a year ago. But these are my first public words about it since a blog post in early June. At that time, while South Euclid’s City Hall was working closely with the developer to avoid a voter referendum on the issue, I suggested the development plan was merely a regrettable waste of a precious resource – open land.
Now the voters have spoken, and they are supporting the First Interstate project. It’s legal, it’s fair and it’s how things are supposed to work.
And there is still another chapter to be written.
First Interstate’s chief executive, Mitchell Schneider, recently announced that he had completed the purchase of the much-larger parcel of Oakwood that lies in Cleveland Heights – which also will require rezoning to accommodate his plans. So now he has to make nice in Cleveland Heights.
I’m sure he’ll eventually succeed. But let’s remember that the cornerstone of his campaign was to beat up on Fran Mentch and Citizens for Oakwood, the organization she helped to build to keep the Oakwood land undeveloped. Its motivation was simple: To prevent another large development that she doesn’t believe anybody needs.
Fran provided an ample target. First, her communications style tends toward the hyperbolic. Second, she’s not afraid to stick her head up even after the shooting has started. Third, and regrettably, she should no longer have remained in charge when the rezoning finally became a South Euclid ballot issue; someone from South Euclid needed to take over.
But Schneider’s message throughout the campaign was also regrettable. Distilled, it came down to this:
The opposition to developing Oakwood is coming from your nosy neighbors in Cleveland Heights, and the people of South Euclid should tell them to shut up and mind their own business by voting for the rezoning.
The message proved inaccurate; while the issue passed comfortably enough, the 3,460 who voted against it represent meaningful opposition from within the city of South Euclid; it wasn’t just nosy do-gooders in Cleveland Heights making noise. Far more South Euclid residents opposed the project than should have been expected based on the deeply flawed political survey conducted early on by First Interstate with apparent help from City Hall.
Schneider’s campaign message was also hypocritical; while he was busy telling South Euclid residents that the issue was purely local, here is an excerpt from a letter he sent to potential influencers across the region:
I am asking you to help even if you don’t live in South Euclid because we are all so interconnected and this is an opportunity for economic growth in our region and an innovative project incorporating best practices in new sustainable design concepts – right in our own back yard. We are trying to have some e-mail and Facebook activity and take advantage of connections that you have or that your friends have … to thereby reach the voters in South Euclid – directly and indirectly.
Nobody knows much about the Cleveland Heights portion of the development yet, but Schneider has announced that it will be mixed use – some commercial or retail, but mostly residential targeted for older adults. It also will contain enough green space, he says, to preserve about a third of the original 144 acres.
While nobody is likely to get me excited by anything that’s planned for the Oakwood land at this point, the project as a whole will likely deliver more positive than negative impact.
But here’s the problem Schneider has to overcome, which I outlined back in February: The South Euclid development delivers positive tax revenue to South Euclid and CH-UH City School District by likely cannibalizing business at the somewhat depressing Severance development – which will have the effect of reducing tax revenue to Cleveland Heights and the CH-UH schools.
In return, the Cleveland Heights development is going to be primarily residential – which tends to cost a city more money in services than it brings in tax revenue.
So regionally speaking, Schneider’s development is a gain for South Euclid and a smaller gain for CH-UH schools. (The schools are still smarting from the loss of more than $300,000 a year in tax revenue due to South Euclid’s conduct in redeveloping Cedar Center North – though that has no direct relation to First Interstate.) But it’s an apparent loss for Cleveland Heights.
In wrapping up the referendum results, Schneider thanked South Euclid voters “who chose win-win instead of win-lose.”
But if Schneider hopes to earn support for the Cleveland Heights piece of his development, then the first thing he ought to do is demonstrate how his plan is really a win-win for everyone.