by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, December 2016) Ohio City resident Tim Barrett, an architectural historian and historic preservation advocate, made a presentation to the Fulton/Lorain/Bailey Block Club on Saturday, November 19th urging opposition to the zoning changes proposed by the City of Cleveland Planning Department for the Ohio City neighborhood. If implemented, Barrett argued the changes would undermine the work that has be underway for decades to preserve the historic nature of residential housing in the Ohio City neighborhood.
Barrett noted what City of Cleveland proposes would change the zoning in the neighborhood from the current zoning which allows the square footage of a house to be built on a lot to be up to one half of the size of the square footage of the lot. The City of Cleveland Planning Department has proposed changing that to allow the square footage of a house to be up to 100% of the square footage of the lot. Barrett says currently for example on a 4, 000 square foot lot, you could now build a 2,000 square-foot house without having to apply for a variance. Under the proposed City of Cleveland plan, a 4,000 square-foot house could be built on the same lot without the requirement of a variance.
Barrett said a chief historic characteristic of the Ohio City neighborhood is free standing houses with front and back yards. He said while the houses are close together side by side, they typically have green space in the front and back. He said changing the zoning to allow larger houses would eliminate much of that green space.
Barrett and local architect David Ellison showed a number of examples of houses that had received variances from the current code, now take up the entire lot, and are generally higher than nearby houses.
Barrett said he feared that developers would push to tear down historic houses to build larger houses on lots in the neighborhood. He said that small workman’s houses are just as historic as Franklin Castle. Replacing such houses with town houses with electric gates would greatly alter the historic pattern of housing in the neighborhood. Barrett cited the townhouses on W. 32nd and Clinton, on W. 26th and Bridge across from Dave’s Supermarket, and the ones on Bridge Avenue from W. 54 to W. 58 as examples of housing with no green space of consequence. He called the box houses going up on Duck Island “a poster child of what not to do.”
Barrett and Ellison note that developers now need a variance to build houses larger than what the code allows. They were critical of the current city process that allows newly proposed developments to go through Design Review before they apply for a variance at the Board of Zoning Appeals. They said the applicants then come to the Board of Zoning Appeals saying their design has already been approved. They suggested that neighbors should have a chance to weigh in first on the request for a variance before the design review happens.
Barrett and Ellison argued for new housing to blend in with what is currently on the street. They said people like back yards, especially people who want to stay in the neighborhood over the long run. Ellison noted people that plan to move to a place with a yard once they decide to have children.
Barrett said the neighborhood could increase density by building larger apartment buildings along the main thoroughfares such as Lorain Avenue, Detroit Avenue and W. 25th Street.
Several block club members said they thought too many one and two bedroom apartments would just add to people moving to the neighborhood for the bar culture. The residents said they would like to see more housing available for families in the neighborhood. They cited instances where friends wanting to move to Ohio City could not find a suitable house.
One block club member said she thought the big houses were being built because the market demanded them. Barrett and Ellison argued that some of the houses being built in the neighborhood could be modified to be more similar in height and yard space as the surrounding houses. They said when people have children or a dog they will be looking to move to someplace with a yard.
Several block club members suggested one way to limit the size of housing would be to get rid of property tax abatement in the Ohio City neighborhood. They suggested the abatement just allows developers to add to their profits while building larger houses and doesn’t result in much saving for the home buyers.