Are all welcome in Cleveland Heights?
I am writing in response to the opinion piece by Eric J. Silverman, “Former BOE member feels Millikin déjà vu,” in the December 2020 Heights Observer. Although I have only been a resident of Cleveland Heights for the past six years, my husband’s family has lived here for almost 70 years! To say that we are a loyal Cleveland Heights family would be an understatement. I love the diversity of Cleveland Heights, and I thought the "All Are Welcome" initiative was a very fitting way to mark the city’s centennial celebration.
As a mother of four who also works full time, I admit that I do not have much spare time to closely follow local issues related to taxes or property development. However, when someone showed me Mr. Silverman’s article, I felt very hurt. I would like to give Mr. Silverman the benefit of the doubt, and I hope that he did not intend his words to come across the way they did. However, the tone of his article made me feel that perhaps the Orthodox Jewish community, which I am proud to be a part of, is actually NOT welcome in Cleveland Heights. I thought we were a valued part of a diverse and welcoming city—are we just a “special-interest group”?
Surely there is nothing wrong with religious schools looking to purchase land or property, is there? Surely there is nothing illegal about being interested in unoccupied lots in close proximity to the current school and its families, is there? Surely there is nothing sinister about purchasing a property for a school that has woods included and not using all of the land for the campus, is there? Why is Mr. Silverman surprised that the families and institutions located in close proximity to the neglected Millikin campus are interested in seeing it put to better use?
I am sorry to hear that there are also empty lots at Noble-Nela, Noble-Mayfield, Lee-Meadowbrook, etc. I am sure that the families and communities living near those locations also care about that land being put to good use. I hope they are fortunate enough to have individuals, such as Jessica Cohen, who do find the time in their busy schedules to join various committees and advocate for changes that they feel would benefit their neighborhood, and—by extension—the city as a whole. Growth in any part of Cleveland Heights should be celebrated, should it not?
Personally, I do not want to see the Millikin property developed into large single-family homes. Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion. I believe the city as a whole, and particularly the residents in close proximity to the property, should be able to hear arguments for and against any new proposal, and be able to voice their preferences. Please remember that families who choose to send their children to religious schools continue to pay property taxes. Should they not be able to give input into how their tax money is being spent?
I am glad to hear that the school district is filling a great need by using Millikin for trades and bulk storage. If so, should it not be taking better care of the property? If caring for that property is too much to manage, perhaps the board should more actively search for “a new home for the district’s trades” which would not require the same level of maintenance. In any case, I wish Mr. Silverman would have expressed his support for the current use of the Millikin property in a more tactful way.
Naomi Stern is a mother of four and a full-time speech-language pathologist in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Her children are third-generation students at the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland.