TOH process demonstrates city's lack of leadership and response
A change in the structure of Cleveland Heights city government is urgently needed for three reasons: the current council-manager structure does not provide leadership, transparency, or responsiveness to the citizens of Cleveland Heights.
Until recently, I thought our council-manager form of government was working fine. However, participating in the public meetings about Top of the Hill (TOH) changed my mind. After attending several meetings, I decided that the proposed TOH apartment project was ill-conceived, unattractive, and inappropriate to the Cedar-Fairmount neighborhood. But I was more dismayed by how the city related to the public during these meetings.
I expected a more coherent and robust community engagement process. The land at the top of Cedar Hill between Euclid Heights Boulevard and Cedar Road is city-owned, and residents should have some say in what is built there. Some TOH meetings included public comment, and some consisted of presentations by developers. When invited to comment, residents—many of them planning experts and architects—lined up to voice their objections to, or support for, the project. Attendees were encouraged to send questions and comments to members of council and to the city’s directors of planning and economic development. However, it was not clear how, or even if, this input would be considered.
I wrote a letter voicing my objections to the design and the public comment process to Economic Development Director Tim Boland, to Planning and Development Director Richard Wong, and to the members of the Cleveland Heights Architectural Board of Review. Nobody responded or acknowledged receipt of my letter.
Council members were either absent from or silent at these meetings. They, our elected officials, appeared to have no role in relating to the public on this important project. There was no explanation of how TOH fit into the Cleveland Heights Master Plan, which was mentioned several times, although relevant parts of it were not discussed or available to meeting attendees.
At one of the meetings, it was not clear which aspects of the project we were permitted to comment on. Issues of design, traffic and parking, and impact on other commercial areas of Cleveland Heights were supposed to be dealt with separately, but this was not, at first, clear.
There appeared to be no leadership on the project. It was not clear to me how decisions would be made and who would make them. The public officials in charge of the project were not engaged in an open dialogue with residents who cared enough to attend the meetings and inform themselves about the project.
Cleveland Heights desperately needs to attract a range of businesses to expand and diversify tax revenue. New residential and commercial developments in University Circle and Shaker Heights have a big head start on us. Apartments and restaurants alone will not keep Cleveland Heights afloat. We need law offices, hotels, tech firms and more. We should be building on the success of having MetroHealth locate in Severance by attracting other medical facilities.
It’s evident to me that Cleveland Heights City Council can’t be expected to grapple with the tough economic issues facing the city. They are part-time and don’t have the necessary expertise. Cleveland Heights needs an executive to negotiate with other city executives. We need someone at the helm with experience in economic development for inner-ring suburbs. Cleveland Heights needs and deserves an elected mayor with vision and the ability to work with the public, city council, and city staff to secure the future of the city we all care so much about.
Meredith Holmes was the first Cleveland Heights poet laureate.
She is a freelance writer, focused on women in politics, science, and engineering.