CH City Council may decide on park ballot initiative by Feb. 7
Cleveland Heights City Council could decide at its Feb. 7 meeting whether to adopt, amend, or reject a citizen-led initiative to require the city to construct a park on the city-owned site at Lee Road and Meadowbrook Boulevard. That decision could determine whether the initiative will appear on the May 3 primary ballot.
At the Jan. 10 city council meeting, CH Finance Director and Clerk of Council Amy Himmelein certified that an initiative petition for an ordinance to require a public activity park be created on 1.07 acres of city-owned land at the corner of Lee Road, Tullamore Road and Meadowbrook Boulevard had obtained sufficient signatures for inclusion on the ballot.
A group of Cleveland Heights residents, led by Ralph Solonitz, Garry Kanter, Lee Barbee, Albert Oberst and Frances Mentch, had submitted the petition to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections on Nov. 29, but were told to collect additional signatures by Dec. 27. The group submitted additional signatures, and, on Jan. 9, the board determined that the initiative had met the 10 percent requirement for inclusion on the ballot.
The Cleveland Heights City Charter required the certification. City council referred the matter to its Council Committee of the Whole (COW), and discussed it at its Jan. 18 meeting. CH Law Director William Hanna explained that the COW must make a report and recommendations to the full city council no later than council’s second regular meeting, on Feb. 7. Once that occurs, council must act within 30 days—by March 9—to approve, disapprove or amend the initiative. If council adopts the initiative, it would become law. If council rejects or amends the initiative, the petitioners then have 10 days to determine whether they want it to appear on the ballot.
Hanna further explained that March 3 is the deadline for council to request that initiatives appear on the May 3 primary ballot. If council decides to take the entire 30 days to make its decision, it would miss the deadline and the initiative would have to appear on a special election ballot. If the initiative appears on a special election ballot, it would cost the city $120,000; if it appears on the May 3 primary ballot, it would cost the city $18,000.
City council held a public hearing on the proposed ordinance at its Jan. 24 COW meeting. Twelve citizens addressed members of council at the hearing, and Himmelein read 10 additional comments received via e-mail. Four of those who commented voiced their support for the ordinance; 18 urged council to reject the ordinance, citing the need for economic development, with three of the 18 stating that they regretted having signed the petition. COW members unanimously passed a motion to recommend that city council reject the proposed ordinance, and instructed staff to prepare a report. The COW will present the report and recommendation at its Feb. 7 meeting, and city council will likely then vote on the issue at its regular meeting that evening.
The city has been working to redevelop the city-owned parcels in the Cedar Lee Business District for 18 years, beginning with the construction of a parking garage in 2007 to accommodate new residential and commercial parking. The city’s 2011 citywide strategic development plan identified the site as a critical focus area for new, complementary mixed-use development. The city’s 2017 Master Plan also recommended that development focus on target areas, including the Cedar Lee Business District.
At its Dec. 6 meeting, city council unanimously approved an agreement with developer Flaherty & Collins (F&C) for a mixed-use development at Cedar-Lee-Meadowbrook, which includes the site in question. The $50-million project is anticipated to comprise 200 to 225 market-rate apartments, 5,000 to 9,000 square feet of non-residential (commercial, retail and/or restaurant) space, and public gathering and green spaces.
F&C presented a report to the city’s Transportation & Environmental Sustainability Committee on Dec. 1, regarding traffic, parking, and sustainability. On Dec. 8, the Planning Commission reviewed a preliminary site plan for the project. On Dec. 21, the Architectural Board of Review (ABR) reviewed a preliminary presentation on the architecture, materials, and overall “look” of the proposed buildings and structures. On Jan. 19, the Board of Zoning Appeals considered requests for minor variances to the zoning regulations for the project and voted to approve them. The city held a parking and traffic workshop at the Community Center on Dec. 14, at which the city’s parking and traffic consultants presented their preliminary findings and recommendations for parking and traffic improvements in the Cedar Lee Business District.
The project is anticipated to come before the city’s Planning Commission for review and potential approval of the site plan and conditional use permits on Feb. 9, and is anticipated to come before the ABR for review and potential approval of the architecture on March 1.
Both meetings will be held at 7 p.m., either virtually or in Council Chambers at City Hall, depending on public health and safety protocols. For details, including whether the meetings will be virtual or in-person, check the city’s online calendar at www.clevelandheights.com/calendar.
The city’s consultants are expected to complete the parking and traffic studies by March. Those studies, and other updates, will be posted on the project’s webpage: www.clevelandheights.com/1154/Cedar-Lee-Meadowbrook.
On its face, if passed as written, the ballot initiative would require the city to construct an activity park on the site, and suspend all construction activities associated with it. However, the city’s law director advised that, in his opinion, passage of the initiative ordinance—either by council or by the city’s voters—would not negate the city’s development agreement with F&C because the ordinance, in his opinion, would run afoul of state and federal constitutional provisions barring laws that result in the “retroactive impairment of a contract.” Nevertheless, the city is required to follow the process outlined in the city charter.
Deanna Bremer Fisher
Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer. FutureHeights supports the proposed mixed-used development at the Cedar-Lee-Meadowbrook site.