Planning commission approves adaptive reuse for Grace Lutheran Church
At its October meeting, the Cleveland Heights Planning Commission conditionally approved the adaptive reuse of the landmark Grace Lutheran Church, 13001 Cedar Road, as an office for Horizon Health Services, a home health care provider, which plans to move from smaller quarters near Shaker Square. Grace Lutheran, which moved to Cleveland Heights from East 55th Street in Cleveland in 1927, had been searching for a buyer for its property; the mostly older congregation had dwindled in size to fewer than 100 active members. Previously, a developer who had been interested in redeveloping the property for residential uses withdrew his offer after it became apparent it would be necessary to demolish the church to make the project work financially.
Horizon Health Services employs more than 600, most of whom work off-site in clients' homes. The company now has 18 office workers in its current location, and expects to eventually have 50 at the new location.
Except for changes to the sign, there will be no changes to the building's exterior. Interior changes will be minor: for example, the pews will be removed so that what is now the sanctuary can become open office space. No clients will come to the site, nor will medical equipment be stored there.
Kara Hamley O’Donnell, Cleveland Heights city planner, presented the case and noted that the reuse of a nonresidential building for limited commercial purposes can be conditionally permitted in a residential zoning district (in this case, 'A' single-family) under the terms of a 2012 amendment to the zoning code. The amendment opens former churches, synagogues, and schools to new uses not normally permitted in residential districts.
O’Donnell, who is also the city's historic preservation planner, stated that Grace Lutheran is a city landmark, both as an individual structure and as a contributor to the national historic district known as Grant Deming’s Forest Hill.
Holden Troutman, who operates Horizon with his wife, said he is a former general contractor who will make repairs to the building but will make no significant changes. "Part of what attracts us to the property," he said, "is the building's architectural splendor."
Two neighbors expressed concerns about the project, including their misgivings about a church being replaced by a commercial business. O'Donnell and Troutman responded to the concerns and questions brought forth by the neighbors. O’Donnell noted that, at the city’s urging, the Troutmans had held a neighborhood meeting a week and a half before the planning commission meeting, attended by 15 neighbors, to inform them of plans for the site and answer questions.
Lynn McClelland, who has been a member of Grace Lutheran for nearly her entire life, acknowledged the neighbors' concerns and talked about how carefully the congregation approached the difficult process of finding a new owner for the property. "One of the reasons we were excited when Mr. Troutman approached us," she said, "was that he seemed to love the building." She went on to say that she thought the Troutmans would have the resources to be better neighbors than the numerically diminished congregation has been able to be, during the past 10 years or so.
Vince Reddy is a FutureHeights board member and an 18-year resident of Cleveland Heights. Roger Bliss contributed to this article.