Public Opposition Fails to Stop Sherwin-Williams' Skywalks, Succeeds in Killing Metroparks' Plan to Widen Sidewalk on Lake Ave.

click to enlarge The skywalks, unfortunately, aren't going anywhere - Courtesy Sherwin-Williams
Courtesy Sherwin-Williams
The skywalks, unfortunately, aren't going anywhere

Power trumped the greater good of Cleveland twice this week with two reminders that the city remains far from its goal of emphasizing and planning for pedestrians and that the efficacy of public opposition remains dependent on what part of the public that public opposition is coming from.

Sherwin-Williams on Tuesday released its near-final design schematics for its new downtown headquarters on Public Square. The updated renderings show a glitzy, 36-story glass tower, a two-story pavilion, a four-story parking garage and two skywalks connecting the three buildings.

The plans received preliminary approval with conditions and comments from the city earlier this summer and the updated version will be reviewed by a 14-member group from the city's planning and landmarks commissions on Sept. 14.

The pavilion and skywalks were the subject of the most complaints and comments when the intial plans were first presented, the pavilion because of its height and lack of public access, and the skywalks because of concerns that they detrimentally affect street life and by, their physical existence, create social tiers.

Downtown Cleveland Residents Association president Alan O'Connell addressed the pavilion specifically in comments at the July special commission meeeting on the project.

“We won’t get another shot at it in our lifetimes to make sure we do it right,” he said. "The model really kind of hurts, you know, this thing that there's no visual unification around Public Square, and we miss the opportunity forever. It’s [Public Square] the most important property as it was pointed out, possibly in the United States. To fill in a missing tooth is incredibly important. And I’m very disappointed that it’s a two-story, semi-public, mostly not, pavilion — a paint museum.”

More than half of the public comments focused on the skywalks, according to coverage of the meeting.

Those concerns were echoed by some of the planning commission members.

And yet when Sherwin-Williams debuted the newest renderings this week, neither the pavilion nor skywalks had changed.

And why should they?

The planning commission has no leg to stand on here. Beyond being a generally feckless body willing to acede to the whims of developers and corporations over downtown residents, it has already set a precedent on skywalks by greenlighting two of them for the casino and Bedrock's May Co. Building project.

As for the pavilion, Sherwin addressed critiques not by changing the design or adding public access but by talking about it differently.

From Cleveland.com's coverage this week:

Tuesday’s meeting frequently featured iterations of the word “transparency.” Vocon architecture firm Principal Matt Heisey said Sherwin-Williams has a design with many windows to ensure the public could experience as much of the pavilion as possible from the outside. The pavilion acts as a sort-of entrance and welcome center to the company’s headquarters.

“We, in fact, are not developing inward looking boxes,” he said. “We are attempting to be as transparent, as open as possible in the entire pavilion.”
How nice.

While not surprising it's disappointing, especially for a project buoyed by $100 million public subsidies in which the public input was already limited by a black-box process and a development agreement between the city and the paint giant that allows Sherwin to designate any and all documents related to the project as "CONFIDENTIAL," thus allowing the city to deny public records requests.

A few miles west, public opposition had a different outcome this week, though the end result of torpedoing public access and pedestrian safety was the same.

In a joint letter, the city of Cleveland, the Metroparks and Cuyahoga County announced this week that the proposed plan to rehabilitate a crumbling, narrow sidewalk on Lake Ave. in the Edgewater neighborhood into a 10-foot-path has been shelved.

The collaborative project led by the Metroparks would have built a widened path, suitable for the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists, on city-owned parts of the properties to serve as a connector from Edgewater to Lake Ave. on Lakewood's side of West 117th, which has dedicated bike paths on both sides of the road.

Vociferous, hysterical outcry by residents on the north side of Lake Ave., a cloistered and powerful bunch of NIMBY residents, killed the project.


What were their objections?

From Cleveland.com's Steve Litt earlier this year:

But the Metroparks proposal, a great idea triggered by a city rehab of Lake Avenue that could start this summer, has stirred debate among residents in the well-to-do West Side neighborhood over everything from fears of big government to nitpicky issues of traffic engineering and urban design in which feet and inches count for everything.

Resident complaints also included worries about the danger of more pedestrians traversing their driveways and the prospect of construction bringing down or damaging trees.

If those sound like feeble, disingenuous arguments against safer, more equitable connectors in the neighborhood and an effort to design a greener region, it's because they are. But residents would have sounded even worse if they offered their true reasons for opposition.

"An overwhelming majority of residents along the proposed path signed a petition rejecting the plan," WKYC reported this week. "Forty residents affected by the path opposed it; five residents supported it and seven residents said they were undecided, according to a copy of the petition."

That included Cleveland City Planning Commission chairman Dave Bowen.

Again, from Cleveland.com:

David Bowen, the chairman of the Cleveland City Planning Commission and a Lake Avenue resident, said in a June 2 online neighborhood meeting with Metroparks that he ended up with two metal plates in his face after having been jumped by what he called a gang outside his front door in the early 2000s.

He nevertheless stayed in the neighborhood. But he said the Metroparks sidewalk proposal might convince him to leave.

“It would be a shame that a gang can’t chase me away but the Metroparks can,’' he said in the meeting.
How nice.

As Litt posited earlier in the summer: "The widening is a test of the idea that Northeast Ohio should connect residents of all physical abilities to regional assets, including Lake Erie, in ways that don’t require ownership of a car."

The city will re-engage with residents to come up with a different possible solution, as the letter states.

But for now, Cleveland again failed the test. 
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