Cleveland Heights City Council meeting highlights 6-19-2017

JUNE 19, 2017

  • Public comments
  • Liquor Control permit transfer applications
  • Coventry Village SID plan
  • CDBG funding
  • Sewer system consent decree and sewer rates
  • Abatement of nuisance properties
  • Charter Review Commission
  • Guidelines for emergency legislation
  • Mayor’s report

All council members were present: Mayor Cheryl L. Stephens, Vice Mayor Jason Stein, Mary Dunbar, Kahlil Seren, Carol Roe, Michael N. Ungar and Melissa Yasinow. The meeting lasted from 7:50 p.m. to 10:23 p.m.

Public comments

The citizen comments lasted for the first 70 minutes of the meeting. Approximately 75 to 80 people were in attendance. Several speakers reiterated previous comments, so those have been omitted.

Former Coventry School: Nineteen citizens, many of whom represent tenants of the former Coventry School building, spoke about the proposed sale of the building to the city of Cleveland Heights for the purpose of finding a developer to redevelop the site. They commented on the importance of the building for its tenants.

Prior to the citizen comments, Mayor Stephens stated that council wanted to reiterate that it is important to listen to residents, so a public hearing on the Coventry building sale would be scheduled soon. She said, “We listen, but you elect us to make difficult decisions.”

In summary, speakers made the following points:

Jack Valancy, representing the Ensemble Theatre Board as well as the building’s tenants, thanked council for the decision to hold a public hearing on the site, emphasizing a “creative, open, inclusive process.” He reiterated that tenants are requesting one-year leases with six months’ notice to vacate, 90 days to develop a business plan, and meaningful input into planning redevelopment of the site. He added that the tenants can guarantee the operating expenses of the building and expect to meet with the city and school board.

Tommy Fello, longtime Coventry Road restaurant owner representing the Coventry Village Special Improvement District, discussed the extreme difficulty of running any business with a month-to-month lease. He detailed the contributions to the neighborhood of the building tenants and the P.E.A.C.E. Playground, calling them an integral part of the Coventry community.

Speakers who discussed Artful studios included:

  • Laura Stack, who rents a studio at Artful and spoke of the importance of the fully rented building as a source of revenue, and the dangers of a vacant building.
  • Brady Dindia, the Artful board president, who summarized a letter from two studio artists about the difficulty of locating, and the importance of, accessible space for artists with handicaps. She praised the affordability and wheelchair-accessibility of the space.
  • Hillary Lyon, a board member involved with several organizations, works in the architecture and construction industries. She read from the city’s website and mentioned statistics regarding the influence of arts and culture on a vibrant community. She compared the building to the economic and social engine that the Gordon Square Arts District has become in Cleveland. Lyon invited the council and community to an Open Studio event at Artful on June 30.
  • Celeste McCardy, a [Cleveland] native who returned from San Francisco recently, stated that artists made San Francisco great, but then the rising costs of space drove them out. She urged Cleveland Heights not to make the same mistake.

Speakers who discussed the P.E.A.C.E. Park included the mother of a 3-year-old who said they visit the playground many times a week and that losing it would be “unimaginable.”

Speakers from Ensemble Theatre included:

  • Rebecca Mosley, who reflected on watching the change from a mostly empty building to a vibrant place and a home for the arts. She spoke about the importance of the arts for children and for the many “millennial” young adults involved with the theater. She expressed hope that, if a move becomes necessary, the city will provide potential options and assistance to the tenants and will always act in a transparent manner.
  • Ian Hinz, board treasurer and a director who has been involved with Ensemble since 2000, commended council for pursuing a public process. He is the husband of Artistic Director Celeste Cosentino, and was previously the artistic director and the operations manager at Cain Park. Hinz pointed out all the ways Ensemble operates with inclusion and diversity. He urged the city to continue to invest in an experiment that is working, and spoke about the legacy of early Cleveland Heights luminaries, Mayor Cain and “Doc” (Dina Rees) Evans.

Derrick Snyder, parent of a 3-year-old at the day care center, [said he] values the center and the other services and agencies in the building. He pointed out the difficulty of running a day care on a month-to-month lease.

FutureHeights board member Andre Wood was born and educated in Cleveland Heights and returned to the city after college. He said that the idea that the building could shut has had a huge impact on the tenant organizations, and he urged the city to make a “right and prudent decision.”

Sharnisse Holmes of Shaker Heights, board member and representative of Lake Erie Ink, pointed out how the presence of Lake Erie Ink and Family Connections helps this community compete with other suburbs.

The parent of an Urban Oak School student explained the Waldorf School model and the fact that the school drew her family to live in Cleveland Heights when they relocated to the area. Another parent explained the school’s “arts-infused curriculum” and emphasized that this is an opportunity for “Cleveland Heights to get it right for the future.”

Other speakers included:

  • Julie Aarons, who emphasized the legacy that could be left by those who save the arts center.
  • Lou Radevoievich, who called the tenants “good businesses run by good people” and emphasized the need to take care of them. He grew up in Cleveland Heights and was involved in the recent Master Plan process.
  • Alex Tesla, an architect who stated he is pro-development, urged that a meaningful, strategic, sensitive community process such as a charrette be held to allow robust community input into the RFP. He believes this will yield better developers wanting to be involved. He praised the “passion in the room.”
  • Cindy Penter spoke about a small investment improving a building that needs work.
  • Gordon Van Meter said the tenants are vibrant and draw a clientele that brings money to the Coventry district.
  • A representative of the Cyrus Eaton Foundation, headquartered in the Heights Rockefeller Building, spoke about several of the tenants that receive grants from the foundation.

Mayor Stephens wrapped up this part of the meeting by thanking all in attendance for their patience and spirit. She stated that the city is willing to incorporate their thoughts and needs to be more open in the future. She concluded, “We will not fail you and we will work with you.”

Former Grace Lutheran Church: Althea Cheatham, whose property on East Derbyshire backs up to the Horizon Heath Care project in the former Grace Lutheran Church, shared some concerns.

Nuisance property: A citizen whose house is in jeopardy of being declared a nuisance spoke.

Municipal Court judge candidate: James Costello, a candidate for Cleveland Heights Municipal Court Judge, introduced himself.

Liquor permit transfer applications

Director of Finance/Clerk of Council Sabin announced the following permit transfer applications to the Ohio Department of Liquor Control as a matter of record:

  • Zoma Ethiopian Restaurant LLC, 2240 Lee Road
  • Tasteful Sensations LLC, Cain Park, 14591 Superior Ave.
  • Star Beem LLC, 7 Eleven 36743A, 3983 Mayfield Road

Coventry Village SID plan

Council approved the proposed public services and improvements plan for the Coventry Village Special Improvement District (SID) for the next five years. This had been approved by the owners of property constituting more than 60 percent of the front footage of the property included in the SID.

CDBG funding

Council approved Community Development Block Grant (CDGB) funds for the following nonprofit agencies to:

  • Family Connections of Northeast Ohio – $20,000 for assistance with its Family School Connections Program (Ungar recused himself from this vote because his wife serves on the organization’s board.)
  • Heights Emergency Food Center – $15,000
  • Home Repair Resource Center – $130,000 for various programs and expenses
  • Heights Youth Club, Inc. – $35,000 for assistance with its Project Learn: The Educational Enhancement Program
  • Lake Erie Ink – $8,872 for its after-school writing program at Noble Elementary School
  • Open Doors Academy – $8,000 for assistance with the organization’s year-round enrichment program for youth living at risk
  • Start Right Community Development Corporation Food Bank – $7,500

Sewer system consent decree and sewer rates

Two resolutions dealing with the overhaul of the city’s sanitary sewer system and rates received second readings and passed with Vice Mayor Stein voting against both. Stein also proposed an amendment to the consent decree with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which would have eliminated the “emergency” clause in the legislation. This failed with Stein and Seren both voting for the amendment.

Passing these as an “emergency” effectively cuts off any citizen attempt to have a referendum on the matter in the future, but speeds up implementation, thereby meeting the time frame required by the federal and state agencies. If they are held up 30 days, there appears to be a real possibility that the EPA would take the city to court.

A long discussion among council members included the participation of Law Director Juliano and City Manager Briley. They discussed the difficulties with the emergency clause and the large increases in rates, which will be hard on lower income residents. In the end, it was decided that this should not be a test case for the use of the emergency provision and that the council should dig into this issue in the near future. There will be 40 percent discounts available to “homestead” eligible senior citizens and families below 200 percent of the poverty rate.

Abatement of nuisance properties

Committee Chair Seren serves on the Nuisance Abatement Board. He commented that the house mentioned by its owner earlier in the meeting had been cleaned out to enable a proper inspection and was found to be in a condition that was financially impossible to rehabilitate. Seren added that in future cases he wants to see inspection reports to help decide whether properties should be razed or can be rehabilitated.

Council declared two properties to be nuisances and authorized abatement. Both are currently vacant, delinquent on taxes, hazardous, and in a state of severe disrepair:

  • 907 Nelaview Road, owned by Helen Pickering (deceased)
  • 13403 Cedar Road, owned by Eula Webb (deceased)

Charter Review Commission

Friday, June 23, was the deadline for applying to be a member of the Charter Review Commission. Several council members discussed the need for more applications from female residents in the interest of a diverse commission. To date, 21 men and four women had applied.

Guidelines for emergency legislation

This is a topic that council will consider soon, according to several members’ statements.

Mayor’s report

Mayor Stephens commented that Cleveland Heights is a community with many diverse opinions, even on city council.

LWV Observer: Blanche Valancy.

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These reports contain member observation and selected highlights of public meetings and are not official statements of the Heights Chapter of the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland. This disclaimer must accompany any redistribution of these reports.

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