Time for a new master plan and strategy for Cleveland Heights

The recent budget tightening in local government has rekindled a critical issue in Cleveland Heights: the need for a comprehensive master plan and economic strategy for our community.

Nearly 10 years ago, residents created a vision report that described what Cleveland Heights aspired to be. It was a valiant effort, but it omitted one important element—a road map for how Cleveland Heights hopes to achieve these goals. There was nothing about implementation strategy, no specifics about resource allocation, no strategic development focus and no project prioritization. Nor did it provide development plans for the major commercial thoroughfares of Mayfield, Cedar, Taylor, and Coventry roads.

The city has a zoning ordinance that designates approved land uses. But a zoning ordinance is not a master plan and does not provide direction in crafting the future of land development and economic growth in the community.

Why are a master plan and development strategy important?

Master plans and economic development strategies direct public resources toward economic growth, business investment, job creation, home development and transportation. Communities with master plans and development strategies prosper and are more socially and economically diverse because of such long-range thinking.

Central Ohio cities, such as Dublin, New Albany, Westerville, Worthington, Gahanna, Grove City, and Columbus have master plans and development strategies. These communities continue to grow and have witnessed fewer challenges during the recent economic downturn.

Cleveland Heights has certainly felt the pinch of the tight economy. Our community is struggling to spur new economic development, our home values have fallen, and foreclosures are all too real. We are also limited to short-term capital improvements because of the lack of resources for investment in our roads and infrastructure. Had long-term planning been put in place years ago, the current crisis might have been easier for the city to absorb.

Economic development, in particular, must be a focused and targeted effort. Cleveland Heights should design a development finance toolbox that addresses the entire spectrum of economic development opportunities, including business investment, real estate development and the catalyzing of entrepreneurship.

What do we do now?

The economic downturn presents a perfect opportunity for a new direction—one focused on long-range planning and economic development. We have an opportunity to revamp our thinking by embracing innovation and cutting-edge planning techniques to make our community the strongest suburb of Cleveland.

Starting now, we should establish and implement a straightforward and comprehensive master plan and economic development strategy. This plan should encompass all residential neighborhoods and commercial corridors and include specifics for physical and economic development, with benchmarks to measure the plan's success on a yearly basis. Resource allocation should be directly tied to the plan’s action items. Transportation strategy, home rehabilitation and modernization programs, and the creation of economic partnerships with surrounding communities should be built in. Finally, our plan must be green. It should encourage and support green development, including developing green building codes, a homeowner program to reduce energy costs, a water conservation and rain barrel program, and a green business incubator.

While these may all seem like lofty goals, we can do it! Our diversity and economic climate enable us to build on our strengths in ways that will make us even stronger not only when times are good, but also when the next economic downturn comes around.

Toby Rittner is a member of the FutureHeights board of trustees and is a candidate for Cleveland Heights City Council this fall.

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Volume 2, Issue 6, Posted 3:21 PM, 05.11.2009