(Plain Press, May 2016) Kerry McCormack, chosen by outgoing Ward 3 Councilman Joe Cimperman as his successor in Cleveland City Council, attended his first Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) meeting as a City Council Representative on April 11th at Cleveland City Hall. Two cases from Ward 3 were up before the Board of Zoning Appeals to seek a variance. BZA Chair Carol Johnson welcomed McCormack and at one point advised him that traditionally City Council Representatives make their comments after residents and stakeholders have testified on both sides of the issue.
McCormack, who prior to being appointed to Cleveland City Council served as Director of Community Affairs for Ohio City Inc., lent his support to property owners seeking variances for Malta Hall Association at 3908 Lorain Avenue in Ohio City and 781 Starkweather Avenue in Tremont.
In Ohio City, the Malta Hall Association owner Michael McBride proposed a variance to “add entertainment and events” for “10 to 150” persons.” The requested new use also contains a parking requirement and landscaping. McBride testified that the entertainment events were necessary for his tenant Canopy Collective to draw enough people to make the business viable. He noted the property has some parking in the rear and there is never a parking problem on the street.
The building is in a pedestrian retail overlay zone that requires 1/3 less parking that is required by the square footage of the space. Residents testified that a lot of people in the neighborhood don’t have cars and many people come to the Canopy Collective on foot or by bike. Others, they said, do single car trips to visit multiple businesses on Lorain Avenue.
Canopy Collective owner Erika Dunham testified that events at the space would be over by 10 p.m. at the latest. A number of members of local block clubs and a representative of Ohio City Inc. testified that parking was not a problem. McBride also noted that the building has parking in the rear of the building. He said that doing the required landscaping would impinge on parking spaces used by other neighbors in the rear of the building.
Several neighbors said they appreciated that Canopy Collective was open at night because they feel the street is safer when it is open.
Only one resident had an objection to the change of use. The Bridge Avenue resident expressed concern about whether the building was properly equipped with fire suppression to accommodate a crowd of up to 150 people. Board of Zoning Appeals Chair Carol Johnson said that was a matter for the Board of Building Standards. However, later in the meeting BZA member Tim Donovan suggested that Canopy Collective owner Erika Dunham reduce the size of the allowable crowd to 99 people to lessen the requirements for fire suppression. Dunham agreed to do that.
Following the testimony of neighborhood residents, McCormack offered his input on the Canopy Collective. He called places like Canopy Collective “crucial” to for growing neighborhoods like Ohio City. He said such places “provide space for people from all backgrounds to get together.” He said Canopy Collective is “exactly what we need on Lorain Avenue.” He noted that when the business is open there are more “eyes on the street.”
After some additional discussion, BZA voted 4-0 to approve the requested variance with a friendly amendment limiting the size of the crowds to 99 people. They required no additional parking or landscaping.
The second case that McCormack weighed in on was a request by Kristen McCann and Jonathan Rose to build a new garage at the rear of their lot at 781 Starkweather Avenue. Rose said he would like to demolish the current dilapidated garage and build a new garage on the same cement slab. The variance requested would allow him to build it higher than the 15 -foot height restriction and closer to the property lines than the city code requires.
There were no objections to the plan from neighbors. However, Louis Griggs, a Construction Technician from the Street Permits Enforcement Division of Engineering and Construction for the City of Cleveland requested that the garage be moved six feet away from the street behind the garage to allow for better sight lines for someone backing out of the garage. He noted that City Planning had an agreement with Traffic Engineering to improve sight lines when the opportunity availed itself.
Rose objected to moving the garage six feet more into his property because he said it would require putting in a larger concrete slab and add to the expense of the project. He noted that other properties already were even with his current garage so the sight lines were already compromised.
McCormack said he had no objection to granting the variance. He said he especially welcomed the addition of two parking spots on the street in Tremont when Rose and McCann begin parking in their new garage instead of on the street.
The BZA voted 4-0 to grant the variance matching the footprint of the current cement slab and allowing increased height for the garage.