Myths about the future of Oakwood

Map of Oakwood with proposed development overlay and gas wells noted

Myths regarding the future of the Oakwood Club abound. Here are some of them.

Myth: It’s too late to do anything about turning Oakwood into a park. Only the South Euclid portion has been sold to a prospective developer, First Interstate Properties Ltd., and the entire property, in both South Euclid and Cleveland Heights, is zoned for single-family residential use. Any commercial, retail or high-density residential development would require rezoning in at least one of the cities before it could be built.

Myth: It’s too late to do anything, because South Euclid City Council will vote for the development, as proposed. If the city council votes to rezone, there would still be an opportunity to put the question to a referendum. There are some indications that South Euclid residents would not approve a zoning amendment for Oakwood.

Myth: Citizens for Oakwood waited too long to do anything. Citizens for Oakwood started trying to buy the property when it went on the market a year ago. We held a public meeting in February 2010, formed a steering committee, and asked the Trust for Public Land to help us buy the property. The trust purchased a 90-day option on the property, but could not raise enough money to buy it within that time. The option lapsed in October, after which the citizens group launched a new effort to buy Oakwood and turn it into a park.

Myth: The prospective developer is generous to offer the City of South Euclid 21 acres of greenspace from the Oakwood property, for the price of one dollar. This is a ploy. If the land is rezoned as commercial, its value will increase. If the developer sells the land to South Euclid for a dollar, it can then write off the value of the land at its new, higher value. The company will never pay taxes on the greenspace and will not have to pay to maintain it. This is comparable to donating your front yard to the city so you would no longer have to pay taxes on it or maintain it and then claiming your donation as a contribution to the city’s greenspace. Additionally, the area designated for greenspace is unsuitable for development because of access limitations and other problems.

Myth: The retail stores and restaurants (per the initial proposal) will provide 400 full-time equivalent jobs and an annualized overall payroll of $12 million. To generate this much money, those 400 jobs would have to pay an average annual salary of $30,000 a year. Most restaurant and retail jobs pay at a lower rate, but, even if these figures turned out to be accurate, the most South Euclid would be likely to collect in added income taxes would be $240,000 per year. Keep in mind that a single new traffic signal can cost approximately $100,000, and the cost of providing police and other city services to a 41-acre retail complex would be substantial. 

South Euclid needs the money that a development like this could bring. Like most other municipalities, the city is experiencing difficult times financially, but while development may be needed, it should be the right kind in the right place. How will starting a competing development at Oakwood, within a short distance of the cleared Cedar Center site, help clear the obstacles to Cedar Center’s redevelopment? Permitting development in the largest greenspace left in the inner ring suburbs is not the financial solution for South Euclid. 

Residents of South Euclid should ask their city government to insist on a community benefits agreement to ensure that any Oakwood development will help them financially, and for more than just a few years.

Fran Mentch is president of Citizens for Oakwood, a project of the Severance Neighborhood Organization. For more information visit www.heightssno.org.

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Volume 4, Issue 3, Posted 11:47 AM, 03.01.2011