Oakwood is not a done deal

There is no demand here for more retail. So we ask how the developer [of the Oakwood property] can make money in a market with declining demand, declining population and declining income. New stores take business from the old stores. It’s been happening for years; it’s been studied and well documented.

The business model for big boxes is to build new, move in, and abandon their old buildings. We understand that this is the plan for Oakwood. The Severance Walmart will close and a supercenter will be built in Oakwood. Supercenters are one-half grocery store, which means that our local grocery stores--Zagara’s and Dave’s and Heinen’s--will suffer. The Walmart at Severance will remain empty because there is no demand, and little use, for abandoned big box space.

Online shopping has reduced the need for bricks-and-mortar stores. A story in the Wall Street Journal ("Malls Face Surge in Vacancies," April 7, 2011) reported that online retailing increased during the holidays, and suggested that we may have hit a tipping point, where online shopping will become so mainstream that retailers will wonder what they need these big boxes for.

The stores proposed for Oakwood are value-oriented, meaning they sell low to medium price-range products. This is not upscale retail. The restaurants proposed for Oakwood will not fill a need for local places to dine because no such need exists. We already have many good restaurants and a wide range of cuisines from which to choose. But the eateries planned for Oakwood will take business from local restaurants. Think of the local restaurant that you are willing to see close in order to bring in a value-oriented chain restaurant, such as Subway, Red Robin or IHOP.

South Euclid residents were told that if they do not support building big box on Oakwood, "then it will have houses built on it anyway." We don’t know that. There is currently a large housing surplus in our area, which includes new, upscale, tax-abated housing suitable for seniors. There is currently no market for new housing.

Some say that Oakwood is private property; the owners can do whatever they want with it. We are all bound by zoning laws. The buyer of the Oakwood property knew that it was zoned for residential use only, but took the risk of buying it anyway, and then asking the city to rezone it.

Cities are under no obligation to rezone or to approve development plans. In 2005, under Mayor Kocevar, South Euclid refused a development plan by F&Y Properties and Young Israel. University Heights refused a permit for a car wash.

It is of the utmost importance for everyone to know that members of the Citizens for Oakwood steering committee approached Mayor Welo and Mayor Kelley over a year ago. They refused to meet with community members who were part of our steering committee to talk about Oakwood. They refused, over a year ago, to talk to representatives from Metroparks about Oakwood.

Because city officials in South Euclid and Cleveland Heights did nothing to help preserve Oakwood, they left our communities vulnerable to the destruction of this precious green space. They opened the door to the developer and his global investment group, Legacy Capital Partners, to come in and destroy a community amenity in order to make a short-term profit. The developer and the investors behind him will move on, leaving the community to contend with abandoned retail buildings, lower property values, and watershed, social and financial problems. The largest green space in the inner-ring suburbs will have been ripped up and paved over for the benefit of a handful of wealthy people who do not live here, and may never have visited our community.

Residents understand that developing Oakwood is a regional issue; our government officials do not. We did not change our form of county government in order to just talk about regionalism. We expected real problem solving and positive action.

Citizens ran a successful "Stop the Mart" campaign 15 years ago, and we can succeed this time, too. Oakwood is not a done deal. The most important thing that residents of South Euclid can do to stop the rezoning of Oakwood is to attend the public hearing on Wednesday, May 25 at 6 p.m. in South Euclid City Hall. Those who cannot attend the meeting can still express their opinions by writing or calling the mayor and city council members.

If the South Euclid City Council votes to rezone Oakwood, the city’s residents are prepared to place the issue on the ballot. They can, and will, make this important decision themselves. This is our community. We are the Citizens for Oakwood. Our supporters come from the entire region, including South Euclid, Cleveland Heights, Lyndhurst and University Heights.

Fran Mentch

Fran Mentch, is president of Citizens for Oakwood, a project of Severance Neighborhood Organization. Visit www.heightsSNO.org for more information.

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Volume 4, Issue 5, Posted 10:53 AM, 05.03.2011