Why the Oakwood project matters if you care about your taxes

The fight to save Oakwood kicked up a notch last week when South Euclid City Council voted unanimously to rezone it to make way for big box and “value-oriented” retail.  If you have followed the news about Oakwood, it documents South Euclid City Council doing the developer's bidding. At the last meetings, council asked First Interstate to give the right of first hire to South Euclid residents, to require a living wage ($8.80/hr) for people employed in the stores, and to include a dark store provision (the promise that buildings left vacant for a certain amount of time would be torn down). First Interstate responded no, no and no.  Council caved; everyone in Cleveland has argued longer and harder over LeBron’s “Decision” than any City Council member did about a project that means ripping up the largest remaining green space in the inner ring suburbs.

Touted as a green and sustainable design, the project will have the lowest LEED certification; only two of the 40 acres will have permeable pavement, and one-third of the 21-acre “park” will contain the project’s stormwater management system. Even though this area will be used every day by First Interstate’s development, the company will never pay taxes on it again. Seven acres of lost revenue; paying no taxes on land used in a commercial development is tax abatement.

The CH-UH school board recently announced it will put a levy on the ballot in November. The state is drastically reducing school funding by eliminating the tangible property tax and the utility tax paid to districts. What does this have to do with Oakwood?

Oakwood and Cedar Center are in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District. South Euclid City Council began seeking 100 percent, 30-year tax abatement for Cedar Center from the school board in November 2005. Across the street from Cedar Center is University Square; the garage for University Square was built by University Heights by using a TIF (tax abatement). You and I have put a lot of tax dollars in that corner of the world.

If the demand for retail is so great that Oakwood must be destroyed, then South Euclid should answer this demand by developing Cedar Center. And do so with no tax abatements that take away revenue from the CH-UH schools.

Who has to make up this lost revenue to the school district? You and me. Why should we and our kids sacrifice so that First Interstate can rip up green space to put in value-oriented retail no one needs?

Fran Mentch

Fran Mentch is a founding member of Citizens for Oakwood.

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Volume 4, Issue 8, Posted 10:06 PM, 07.10.2011