University Heights City Council meeting highlights 12-19-22
DECEMBER 19, 2022 - regular meeting
- Mayor’s report
- Finance committee
- Cleveland Kosher Food Pantry
- University Square MOU
- CIC funding
- 2023 Budget
- Aleksander Shul lawsuits
- Other council action
- Relocation of council meeting to its chambers
- Charter review commission
Present were Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan, Vice Mayor Michelle Weiss, and Council Members Barbara Blankfeld, Christopher Cooney, Justin Gould, Brian J. King, John P. Rach, and Sheri Sax. Also present were Kelly Thomas, clerk of council; Luke McConville, law director; and Dennis Kennedy, finance director. The meeting ran four hours and 15 minutes.
The climate action community has recognized University Heights for reducing its carbon footprint. The state of the city address will take place Wednesday, Feb. 15.
Since 2018, University Heights has been presented as an urban suburb with diversity as illustrated in Mosaic [https://www.universityheights.com/citymagazine/]. It is a diverse and welcoming city where hate has no home. As Twitter now coddles anti-Semites and censors journalists under Elon Musk’s leadership, University Heights, as a diverse community and welcoming city, has suspended its Twitter account.
Vice-Mayor Weiss, chair of the Finance Committee, advised that the committee had referred the proposed budget to council for voting tonight. The Ohio Auditor of State rated University Heights with excellence in financial reporting. Continuing work on facilities and infrastructure will go forward in 2023.
Cleveland Kosher Food Pantry
Council authorized a donation of $10,000 of ARPA funds to the Cleveland Kosher Food Pantry, on emergency so that the mayor and council could present the donation immediately to members of Cleveland Kosher Pantry.
University Square MOU
Council approved a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the current stakeholders in University Square, including KL Holdings LLC, Macy’s, and Target. Key points of the MOU include:
- The city can apply for ARPA funds to be used by the Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) for redevelopment outlined in the MOU.
- The CIC, a separate entity from the City of University Heights, will take ownership of the University Square garage. Funds totaling $2.6 million, comprising $2.1 from Target and Macy’s and $500,000 from ARPA, will be used to repair the garage and bring it up to code and safety. The prior developer’s duty to maintain the garage had never been met.
- The CIC, Target, and the new developer must contribute $50,000 per year to a capital reserve fund for long-term repairs to the garage and bridges. The CIC, as owner of the garage, provides a layer of protection to the city for liability and responsibility.
The MOU turns a corner for University Square redevelopment. Target and Macy’s have agreed to items in principle that had not been successful prior to the city’s involvement.
In the council discussion, Mr. Gould and Mayor Brennan commented on how the CIC’s ownership of the garage provides the city protection from liability and allows the city to maintain itself as a separate entity with all of its rights intact. Mr. Gould proposed some MOU amendments to reinforce that protection, which Mr. McConville said would be consistent with the MOU negotiations. He and the mayor would present them to the other parties. Mr. McConville noted the importance of acting quickly as the LLC that currently owns the property could declare bankruptcy and tie things up further. The mayor noted that, while he has had misgivings about the CIC in the past, this was the kind of project that the CIC was to undertake when it was created.
The mayor and Mr. McConville noted features of the project, which will include a retail tenant, apartments, and greenspace. Phase I would be the apartments, greenspace, and entertainment. A prospective tenant has given a letter of intent to the developer but is awaiting signs of progress in the development.
At the mayor’s request, council voted to override his veto of council’s passage of additional funding for the CIC at council’s December 5 meeting. On December 12, he executed the veto by formal order and correspondence to council. In light of the MOU for the University Square project, however, he no longer has an objection to additional funding being provided to the CIC and advised council to override his veto.
Council approved the 2023 budget on third reading. This budget was proposed by the mayor and reflects changes recommended by council. Council voted to remove a temporary budget placed on the agenda in case the budget wasn’t passed. Council also approved a routine resolution to ask the county to advance to the city its anticipated share of the tax revenue before final determination.
Aleksander Shul lawsuits
With Mr. Gould and Mr. Cooney voting no, council authorized the mayor to enter into a settlement of two lawsuits with Aleksander Shul, a religious institution located in University Heights. There was some public discussion of the lawsuit until Mr. McConville expressed the need for further discussion in executive session as is customary for discussing ongoing litigation. Later in the meeting, council went into executive session before returning for a public vote.
The lawsuits basically challenge the University Heights ordinance that prevented the construction of their new shul. In Nov. 2021, Aleksander Shul received a special use permit with nine to ten separate conditions. A settlement would involve a resolution of these conditions and include the requirement for a significant construction bond to raze the existing structure and build a shul. The parties would agree that there would be no further administrative processes or hoops for the Aleksander Shul to go through for approval of their new structure. They would still be required to have the requisite permits and inspections during the construction process, and they agree to administrative review without going before the Board of Zoning Appeal (BZA) or the Architecture Review Board (ARB). Approximately $1.59 million in fines would be suspended except for #$65,000. Mr. Cooney expressed concern about bypassing the planning commission. Mr. Gould was concerned about review of the project bypassing council and claimed the proposed settlement was not a transparent process
Other council action
Council extended a human resources contract with Clemons Nelson for 12 months from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2023. Finance Director Dennis Kennedy strongly recommended adoption of the contract as it will save money rather than having the work done in house.
Council approved payment of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation premium for 2023 in the amount of $164,391. There were no refunds from previous year although a small surplus was applied.
Council authorized transfer of funds from the general fund to the street improvement fund and the ODNR grant fund. These are considered to be loans from the general fund, which will be paid back with revenues received.
An ordinance to prohibit campaign contributions from a vendor who has a contract for more than $5,000 with the city was heard on first reading and referred to committee.
Council authorized extension of the contract with the city engineer for 60 days. The city is negotiating with GPD Group for a new contract; the administration wants continuing service but also time for council committee review.
Council accepted a bid from Nerone & Sons for emergency sewer repair through 2025. The city does not have the equipment or personnel to do this type of work. Work during 2023 is guaranteed and the other years are optional.
Council accepted a bid for catch basin cleaning. The city has had a successful contract with the contractor for the last six to eight years and the price was good.
Relocation of council meeting to its chambers
The concern is about ADA accessibility and compliance with sunshine laws. Mayor Brennan discouraged returning at this time, but if the property the city is attempting to claim via eminent domain becomes available there would be a fully accessible room there for meeting. This discussion was tabled until the next meeting after Mr. McConville researches the issue.
Charter review commission
James Hux resigned from charter review commission; Council Member Gould appointed Therese Marshall to the commission.
LWV Observer: Marilyn Singer.
Meeting packets, legislation, and other information can be found on the city website at: https://www.universityheights.com/council/
Videos of council meetings can be viewed on the “City of University Heights” YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCA82j5L_CkQxK9cXP_qrXvw/videos