Who is it we entrust with our safety?

To the Editor:

The City of Cleveland Heights’s decisions regarding the Turkey Ridge project planned along Edgehill Road have evoked a lot of emotions in me: resentment regarding the 15-year, 100 percent tax abatement given the developer, Visconsi Companies; and irritation at the suggestion of a Turkey Ridge Community Reinvestment Area (CRA), when there is no blight among the several $400,000 to $1,000,000 buildings.

Now, I feel alarm. It turns out the hillside along Edgehill Road is prone to landslides. Yet our leaders at City Hall are unconcerned.

A past development was stopped because the 2006 soils report done as part of the planning process revealed evidence of several past landslides on this hillside.

Oddly, though, the most recent soils report, done last year for this project, doesn’t reveal anything: the city and the developer claim the report is “proprietary.”

According to Elizabeth Rothenberg, CH’s assistant law director, speaking at the May 21 Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) hearing, the city signed an agreement to keep the content of this recent soils report secret, even to city planners and leaders. The reason? To keep it from becoming a public document.

Concerns about the stability of this hillside arose at an April 30 meeting between the developer and residents. People living along Edgehill Road described how their current properties were crumbling away, without any construction or activity on the hillside, so they expressed fears about the possible collapse of the hillside during construction. Richard Wong, the city’s planning director, echoed the phrase stated by the developer’s representatives:  the buildings will not fall.

But what about the actual hillside? There was no answer. Requests by all present at this meeting to see the soils report were met with the same “proprietary” claim by the developer and Wong.

Wong’s cavalier attitude regarding potential liability issues should this hillside collapse, destroying property and causing bodily harm, provoked my concern. So I contacted construction engineers with the Ohio Department of Transportation, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, looking for some agency with the authority to ensure the safety of this hillside. The response from each engineer was the same—that we had to trust our leaders to do the right thing.

One engineer laughed at the notion of a “proprietary” soils report. He said that it is the first thing any municipality will look at as part of a development plan. Once anyone at the city sees the report, it becomes a public document. Hence, the contract this city’s leaders entered into with Visconsi Companies.

At the BZA hearing, Wong assured the board that the hillside was safe; however, he has never seen the report. The BZA, now concerned about possible liability issues should this hillside collapse, asked Rothenberg to allow only the board to see the soils report. Her answer was that the city would not force the developer to turn over this document.

Wong failed to mention these very important details in his report to city council in a follow-up to this hearing. Yet Mayor Wilcox was present at the hearing, and was also a council member when the city entered into this agreement back in September 2013.

Our city leaders are playing a game with public safety through legal chicanery. Council is entrusted with our safety, welfare, morals and health, yet a majority of our current council members were party to an agreement that ignores potentially substantial liability issues.

Enough! I want real representatives, not at-large council members who obviously have no regard for our safety or welfare. Sign my petition to create a ward system for council representation that will hopefully remove influence and money that enables these types of “development” practices. Contact me at: Diane Hallum, Treasurer, Citizens Leadership PAC, 216-691-9386, dhallum@earthlink.net.

Diane Hallum

Diane Hallum
Cleveland Heights

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Volume 7, Issue 7, Posted 2:32 PM, 06.30.2014