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Thursday, November 17, 2011

East Side Suburb Ramps Up Efforts to Block Oakwood Development (Updated)

Posted By on Thu, Nov 17, 2011 at 2:00 PM

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Update IV: The ballot issue failed; Oakwood will remain zoned for development and the project will go forward. No need for heated outlashes, gloating, or poor sportsmanship.

Unless you're South Euclid Council President David Miller, that is, who after the victory, spoke to opponents of the project when he told the Sun Messenger, “Thank you and goodbye. Crawl back under the rock you came from.”

Nice.

He sort of apologized at a later council meeting, according to the paper, but not really.

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Update III: A signature drive and a fresh batch of outrage at the availability of $5 tube socks delivered voters the right to decide whether the former Oakwood country club property would be zoned for development or something more east-sidey, like a park, or 10 mph speed trap. Congratulations. Unfortunately, the latest news proves that the vote itself might not only fail, but it could be completely impotent should it succeed.

The PD reports
that South Euclid mayor Mayor Georgine Welo thinks voters will decide to keep the commercial zoning. Bummer. But beyond that, First Interstate Properties might be able to appeal to have the commercial zoning grandfathered in, regardless of what the voters decide. That, in effect, might be feasible because the commercial zoning was set by council before First Interstate Properties owned the property. Double bummer.

Triple bummer: the South Euclid law director says the pending vote won't stop the developer from proceeding with work before citizens head to the ballot-box.

(For some awesome history on the country club itself, check out this post from Cleveland Area History.)

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Update II: Last we checked in with the fight against the rezoning of the former Oakwood Country Club, Citizens for Oakwood had had their petition ruled invalid on a super minor technicality: they handed off the paperwork to a South Euclid clerk instead of the city finance director. First Interstate Properties pounced on the error, hoping to prevent the referendum from hitting the ballots in November and expediting their plans to build.

It took the Ohio Supreme Court to bring some sanity to the situation. According to the PD, the court ruled that the petition was submitted correctly and should be honored. In addition, the court disagreed with First Interstate Properties' assertion that because the rezoning was an "emergency ordinance," it shouldn't be subject to a voter referendum. We would have ended the brief with a simple, "Stop being dicks," note to First Interstate, but the high court doesn't really work that way.

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Update: Citizens for Oakwood, the group behind the effort to block a planned mixed-use shopping plaza at the old Oakwood Country Club, collected more than enough signatures for their petition to head to council and then the voters. Unfortunately, they turned the paperwork in to the wrong person, and well... technicalities are technicalities.

First Interstate Properties, the company that brought the land, pointed out that Citizens for Oakwood were supposed to turn in paperwork to the city auditor, according to the Ohio Revised Code 731.32, but they turned it in to the clerk instead. Also, the city doesn't have an auditor, so it should have actually gone to the city finance director. Council was all set to approve the petition and then send along the measure to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections when South Euclid Law Director Michael Lograsso studied the code and agreed with First Interstate Properties. Via Patch:

“From a personal point of view, I would have preferred that the (petitions) went to the Board of Elections, and let voters decide and that it not fall into my lap,” he said. “I looked at the law, and it’s very clear on this issue. Once I became aware of this legal issue I couldn’t ignore it.”

The group can appeal, but it's unclear what will happen next. Needless to say, Citizens for Oakwood will probably doublecheck proper procedures this time.

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Late last month, South Euclid City Council voted to rezone its section of the former Oakwood Country Club from residential to commercial. The move clears the way for the property’s new owner, First Interstate, to start pulling permits to build its controversial Oakwood Commons retail hub.

But the vote also drove opponents of the plan out of their whining-at-public-gatherings phase and into counter-attack mode: The group, christened Citizens for Oakwood, has gathered roughly twice the necessary signatures to get an issue on the November ballot to stop the plan. Now it just needs to make sure folks know what the plan is.

“The people we talk to, about half haven’t heard about it,” says the group’s Kathy Schaefer. “We’re going to have to embark on an education plan to get people involved.”

Oakwood Commons’ combination of retail and parkland has drawn criticism in part because it could practically share parking lots with numerous existing retail locations in the area.

The most vocal opposition so far has come from Cleveland Heights, where more than half of the former Oakwood land sits. A neighborhood group there objected when First Interstate moved to acquire the property last year. But so far, Cleveland Heights City Council hasn’t taken up the matter of rezoning the land to accommodate development, giving residents there nothing specific to complain about.

“I think it will be an interesting vote in South Euclid,” says resident Joe Liptow. “At least there will be a campaign. All kinds of figures will be thrown out one way or the other. It’ll be interesting to see how they greenwash it, so to speak. If it goes to a vote and people say, ‘Hey, Walmart is great, let’s get it in there, there’s too many trees already,’ so be it.” — Anastasia Pantsios

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