Cleveland Heights needs more money, not green space

I was delighted to hear about the plans by First Interstate Properties to develop Oakwood Country Club, a site that I suspect most residents of Cleveland Heights have never set foot on, as it has historically been a private country club. I can appreciate the sentiment of many residents that this property should remain green space, but Cleveland Heights already has more parks than most inner-ring suburbs—Cain Park, Caledonia Park, Cumberland Park, Denison Park and Forest Hills Park, not to mention nearby Shaker Lakes.

Further, I applaud the developer for recognizing the importance of green space to residents and agreeing to donate 69 acres for use as green space.

Ask residents of Cleveland Heights what they dislike most about the city and among the top three complaints you will hear that property taxes are too high. What Cleveland Heights needs is more money.

Converting the property to public green space means that we would lose out on property taxes currently being paid by the club in the amount of approximately $200,000 per year. Our schools would lose approximately $135,000 per year and the city would lose approximately $20,000. Additionally, it would cost a significant amount of money to maintain the site and provide adequate security.

Severance Center, as a point of reference, will pay a total of $2.7 million this year in taxes, $1.4 million of which will go to the school district. I cannot estimate what the value of First Interstate’s development will be, but if it is valued the same as Severance, our schools would receive at least $1 million more per year and the city would receive an extra $240,000 per year. The county valued Severance at $53 million, and I think a development at Oakwood has the potential to significantly exceed that.

My hope and expectation is that the developer will incorporate significant community input, design a center and find tenants, while respecting the uniqueness and diversity that makes Cleveland Heights great. Additionally, I would like to see Cleveland Heights and South Euclid come up with a tax-sharing plan so that both cities share in the benefit of this development.

I think that all too often, residents of Cleveland Heights resist change. To compete in the 21st century, we need to embrace change. Development of this site can have a tremendous fiscal impact on our city and schools. Hopefully, next we can have the Top-of-the-Hill [Cedar Fairmount] and Lee/Meadowbrook sites developed.

Kevin Smith is a resident of Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 4, Issue 2, Posted 10:34 PM, 01.06.2011