South Taylor development project moves forward in UH
On Feb. 16, University Heights City Council approved the site plan for South Taylor Place Condominiums, a new development on Taylor Road in University Heights, just south and southeast of Deslisle Options Center.
The developer, Knez Homes, has proposed a 30-unit townhome development on the site, which it will market and sell to third-party buyers.
The site comprises seven parcels of land, of which three belonged to the city of University Heights, and four to the CH-UH City School District. At its April 7, 2020, meeting, the board of education (BOE) approved Resolution No. 20-04-033, transferring its four parcels to University Heights’ community investment corporation (CIC) at a price of $10.
The CIC, in turn, agreed to sell the seven parcels to the developer at a price of $1,000 per lot, for an aggregate purchase price of $7,000.
At the Feb. 4 meeting of the UH Planning Commission, its members voted, 6-1, to recommend that city council approve the developer’s site plan. Council Member John Rach voted “nay.” Rach also cast the lone dissenting vote at the Feb. 16 council meeting.
The project next proceeds to the city’s architectural review board, then returns to the planning commission for the lot consolidation and subdivision plat.
At the Feb. 16 council meeting, architect Hanna Chohan Plessner, vice president of development at Knez Homes, reviewed the site plan for the seven parcels. The plan, which can be viewed online at www.universityheights.com, is for eight buildings, with the townhomes in groupings of three and four. Most of the units will be approximately 2,000 square feet, with one 2,400-square-foot unit.
Each townhome will have an attached two-car garage, open-concept living area, and two to three bedrooms, with the option to add a fourth.
Noting that the plan complies with current zoning, Plessner said there will be an HOA for the site, and owners will own the land underneath their unit, as well as the unit itself.
Units 1–8, which will front on Taylor Road, all will have roof decks. Other units will have a roof-deck option. The Taylor-fronting exteriors will comprise a mix of “thin-brick” and siding; other units won’t feature the brick.
The design calls for shared green spaces—one to be located at the northwest corner, where it will tie in with the current walkway, and another to the south/southeast. A “pedestrian courtyard” is planned, to run through the center of the site.
Plessner said construction would proceed in phases, by building, with probably one to two under construction at a time. She anticipated that construction would start on Taylor Road and move east from there.
The timeline for completing the entire project is “not later than four years” from the date of the CIC’s sale agreement with the school district.
While the plan doesn’t cite target sale prices, discussion at the Feb. 4 and Feb. 16 meetings referenced a range of $300,000 to $400,000.
Because University Heights, with the exception of University Square, is a designated Community Reinvestment Area, the project qualifies for a full 15-year tax abatement on the new construction, to the developer and the initial transferees. The underlying land is not tax abated, and its value will be adjusted once the improvements [i.e., townhomes] are built. The 15-year tax abatement is valid no matter how many times a property transfers during that time frame.
The agreement between the BOE and UH contains a “revenue guaranty” provision, detailed in the BOE’s April 7, 2020, meeting notes, in which the city guarantees $20,000 annually in real property taxes to the school district, beginning the year in which the tax abatement commences. That is the minimum amount the completed project is expected to generate annually; the city is required to pay the difference, should the actual real taxes be less than that minimum amount.
The sale agreement also contains a “clawback” provision, according to which the BOE will have a limited option to buy back its property, or a portion of it, if the developer fails to meet certain completed-unit milestones.
At the April 7 BOE meeting, Board Member Malia Lewis commented, “The most important part of the proposal is the clawback provision. It protects us if this development falls apart. [I’m] not interested in giving away our real estate without some security.”
Much of the discussion at the Feb. 16 meeting centered around vehicular access and, especially, the question of visitor parking. The plan calls for all vehicles to enter the development from Wynn Road. UH Fire Chief Robert Perko confirmed that the site, and its turning radii, will accommodate fire trucks.
Various council members joined the discussion regarding parking for visitors, delivery services, repair persons, etc., with Rach noting that [lack of] parking was the reason he voted no at the planning commission meeting. He also wondered where snow would go in the winter: “You have to push it somewhere. It’s a little tight.”
Council Member Justin Gould commented that, while he “appreciates Knez, and what they’re doing in the city, [I don’t] want to turn the neighborhood into the site’s parking lot, when the developer made the decision not to build that additional parking.”
Plessner stated that the developer thinks there is adequate nearby on-street parking, suggesting that perhaps more parking could be opened up on Wynn Road. “We’ve spent about a year on the site plan,” said Plessner. “We believe in this plan strongly.”
Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan commented, reminding council, “We created the residential-attached district ourselves, to attract this kind of development. This development meets the zoning we created and passed. The proposal by Knez doesn’t do anything that isn’t permitted by the zoning we implemented to attract this project.”
Rach made a motion to approve the site plan, with the condition that the developer construct 28 units and eight on-site parking spots. After extensive discussion, his motion failed for want of a second.
After the meeting, the mayor credited teamwork for the project’s progress. “This is the culmination of nearly three years of work by city administration, the City Beautiful CIC, and city council,” Brennan said. “Special thanks go to our Cleveland Heights-University Heights school board [members], who, too, shared the vision of what can be with this development. We look forward to continuing our work with Knez Homes to build the first major multi-unit housing development since the late 1970s here in University Heights.”
Brennan noted that construction may begin this year: “We kept this project above water and moving forward in spite of the pandemic. With momentum restored, we may still break ground on these units in 2021.”
Kim Sergio Inglis
Kim Sergio Inglis is editor of the Heights Observer, and a Cuyahoga County master gardener volunteer.