Oakwood moves forward: Now prove that it’s really a win-win

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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.


  1. FirstInterstateProperties says


    Thank you for acknowledging in your recent blog post that the Oakwood project will “deliver more positive than negative impact.” At least that is a start! We believe that it is important to address one point that you have focused on and ask that you revisit the actual materials with the hope that you might adjust your thinking on something. The materials with the post card that was sent out by First Interstate last spring was never billed by First Interstate as a survey of any kind. If you take a look at it, it was a post card that afforded residents of South Euclid a relatively easy way to express their support for our proposal. It was prepared on the basis of the reality that most public officials often hear the most from people opposed to new projects, not from those (often the silent majority) that would like to see things happen. The post card was simply an opportunity for that group to express their support. Unfortunately, the newspapers began to characterize the post cards as a “survey” and of course, you are correct, there was no option to check “no”-this was not a survey and it was not intended for that purpose. First Interstate has never billed this piece or the postcards as representing anything more than what they were- an expression of support by a group of residents when given an easy convenient way to do so.

    I realize that First Interstate has released very few details to date about our proposal for the Cleveland Heights parcel of the former Oakwood Country Club. Now that the voters have supported our plans in South Euclid, we will begin to turn our attention in earnest to the planning and engagement processes in Cleveland Heights. Both South Euclid and Cleveland Heights need new sources of tax revenues and we are confident that the Oakwood development, taken as a whole, will benefit both cities, and in particular the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools. Right now, neither city receives any material income tax revenue since the former country club is closed and the facilities abandoned. In addition, the total Real Estate taxes at this time are minimal given the current use and zoning for the land and the lack of structures to form a tax base. By incorporating the club facilities into our new development, we will preserve the current building assets while bringing in additional buildings to create a real estate tax base and new revenues.

    Our mixed use concept for the Cleveland Heights parcel calls for a transitional commercial venue adjoining a variety of living options for active seniors, along with therapy and wellness facilities, restaurants and civic use. We propose two senior living environments – fantastic modern apartments for healthy, active adults over the age of 55 and a first class continuing care retirement community that will be a unique option for seniors that wish to settle into a retirement community that can provide them with a high quality amenity environment at an affordable price, in particular because of the fabulous country club facilities that already exist. This development will bring well-paying jobs for people who provide medical and other services and care to the residents of the independent living, assisted living and skilled-nursing facilities, as well as those who will work in the shops and restaurants.

    It is still too early to talk in detail about the concept for the Cleveland Heights parcel, but sometime in 2012 we will present details to the community including tax projections for the city, schools and county. Those projections will demonstrate that, rather than reducing revenues to the city or schools, the proposed development will bring new jobs and new tax revenues, along with new lifestyle options to keep residents in the local community. We are setting very high goals for this project. We want to build a high quality, mixed-use development that fulfills market demands and is sustainable and environmentally respectful; in short, a “win-win” for the community.

    We look forward to working with the City of Cleveland Heights to shape this proposal. When we do, we expect that Future Heights, among others, will ask tough questions and challenge our assumptions. We welcome those questions and the scrutiny. In the meantime, First Interstate is working with the City of South Euclid to make sure Oakwood Commons is a quality high development that creates new jobs, brings a new park, and results in a sustainable addition to the commercial tax base benefiting both communities.

    Susan Windle
    First Interstate

  2. says

    Thank you for your comment. I will make two clarifications and one counterpoint:
    I did not mean to imply that a net positive tax impact on the community is the only important consideration. Most important would have been introspection by the community before the land was sold to formulate an idea of the use for the property that would provide the best long-term benefit to the communities – and then figure out how to achieve that. Absent that (I believe South Euclid’s council was so quick to fall in love with your project that it failed to do its job of listening to constituents – hence the need for the referendum) then the project must at least be revenue-positive for the city before it will have even my qualified support.

    The most important clarification is that I do not speak for FutureHeights. Even though I am active on its board and with its Observer media project, I have my own opinions and will continue to voice them.
    To date, the only position that FutureHeights has taken on Oakwood is that a thoughtful process is in order to the degree that the city and citizens are involved.

    My counterpoint: Your statements about the postcard strike me as possibly revisionist and disingenuous. While I was not at the meeting where the “results” were disclosed, it was reported that the results were, in fact, presented as a survey that allegedly demonstrated overwhelming support for the project. If the media really mis-characterized the postcard, your acknowledgement of that now carries little comfort to those who may have been misled – coming as it does two weeks after the election.

  3. cleveland23 says

    Bob I agree with you about the revisionist attitude. Like a totalitarian regime they feel the need to rewrite the past and justify the future. Susan even ask if you might “adjust ” your thinking like in the novel 1984:) First Interstate won and they can’t leave well enough alone.
    Susan if your reading this what is your position in the company? Is it Propaganda? I learned how to spell that word thanks to you:)

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