by Chuck Hoven (Plain Press, July 2016) Over the past six months, Ohio City residents participating in meetings about rezoning the entire Ohio City neighborhood have learned quite a bit about how to read zoning maps and designations for use districts, area districts and height districts. On June 8th, at St. John Episcopal Church on Church Avenue, residents listened as Joel Wimbiscus, Chair of the Ohio City Real Estate and Land Use Committee, and Trevor Hunt of the City Planning Commission staff presented yet another revised plan for rezoning of the neighborhood.
The zoning changes were initially presented to the neighborhood under the premise that current zoning law would not allow many of the current buildings in Ohio City to be built today without a number of variances. Residents pointed out that the proposed changes from City Planning went well beyond the initial goal and would instead allow large structures with a high density beyond what are common in the neighborhood.
The latest version of the plan incorporated many suggestions from previous meetings, substantially scaling back some of the area and heights allowed in developments that residents had objected to.
During this long process, Ohio City residents and block clubs did their own research. Alex Frondorf, working with a development committee that grew out of the Franklin-Clinton Block Club, developed a presentation that explains in detail the City of Cleveland’s proposals and what they would mean in terms of square footage of buildings, height and setbacks. The committee makes alternative recommendations for various sections of the neighborhood. Frondorf also prepared a presentation for the Bridge Carroll Block Club.
Architect David Ellison also developed drawings showing residents how large buildings could be built in various locations under the proposed City of Cleveland zoning changes.
In response to all the meetings and presentations, some residents expressed skepticism as to whether new zoning was needed at all. A number of residents said they believed that the current zoning law, requiring variances for many structures, worked for them. One resident said, “Going for a variance is not evil. It is an opportunity for residents to say, ‘I like this. I don’t like this.’ We don’t have rights as citizens if we give this up.,” she said.
Residents also complained about lax requirements for parking in Urban Overlay and Pedestrian Retail Overlay districts which are forcing more parking into residential neighborhoods. One resident said because of lack of parking requirements for developments, parking spaces in her neighborhood are taken up and she now has to park 2 ½ or 3 blocks away from her house. “This is not what I bought into in 1972,” she said.
A zoning change by the City of Cleveland allowed a four story 70-unit apartment building being put up next to the historic building that houses her law office on Clinton Avenue is a sore point for Nancy Schuster. She noted being engaged in a property line dispute with the developers of the project that may result in the loss of a 100-year-old wrought iron fence and problems with developers damaging her blue spruce tree and Rose of Sharon hedge. Ohio City resident Mary Rose Oakar gave some background on Schuster’s case on Clinton Avenue, saying that Schuster had won a case in court that said, “you can’t build this monstrosity.” However, Oakar said after Schuster’s victory in court, the property was rezoned to allow for the development. Oakar said, “no way a councilman and the planning commission should act this way.” She also said it was not right for Ohio City Inc. to side with the developer over Schuster. Oakar says the lack of trust of the City of Cleveland when it comes to zoning, stems from the rezoning of the parcel on Clinton. “I don’t know if the city will ever regain trust after that,” she said.
Not everyone at the meeting was opposed to the proposed zoning changes. A resident of W. 38th, South of Lorain Avenue said he thought increased density would help keep housing affordable and lead to a more economically diverse neighborhood.
A group calling itself the ad hoc Neighborhood Committee on Rezoning the Ohio City Neighborhood listed a number of interests they would like to see addressed in the neighborhood. The group called for the planning process to start over again with a neighborhood initiated plan that identifies goals that neighborhood residents would like to see happen such as preserving the historic nature of the neighborhood, requiring adequate well landscaped parking for all new developments and developing design guidelines that are compatible with the historic nature of the neighborhood. The group provided sample letters for residents to send to Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack, Mayor Frank Jackson and Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland who is a member of the City of Cleveland Planning Commission.
One resident urged Ohio City to be more inclusive in sending out notice for future meetings. She said a lot of people don’t go to block club meetings and electronic notices don’t work for everybody. She urged that notices be sent to the Plain Press for publication and fliers be passed out and put in the library.
In response to the feedback of residents at the meeting, Ward 3 Councilman McCormack said, “Community feedback is critical. The conversation is not over.” He urged residents to “absolutely express concerns to professionals.” Trevor Hunt of the City of Cleveland Planning Commission staff, said, “my door is open to address specific concerns.”