Cleveland Heights City Council meeting highlights 6-5-2017

JUNE 5, 2017

  • New director of finance/clerk of council
  • Public comments
  • Coventry Village SID renewal
  • Civil Service Commission appointment
  • Energy conservation bonds
  • LGBT Pride Month
  • CDBG Fund agreements
  • Water and sewer rates and regulations
  • Sanitary sewer system consent decree
  • Sewer rates increase
  • Sale of Coventry School
  • BottleHouse outdoor dining
  • Zoning variances
  • Nuisance property abatements
  • Sale of K-9 officer to his handler
  • Mayor’s report

Council members present were Cheryl L. Stephens (mayor), Mary Dunbar, Kahlil Seren, Michael N. Ungar and Melissa Yasinow. Jason Stein (vice mayor) and Carol Roe were absent. The meeting lasted from 7:50 to 9:28 p.m.

New director of finance/clerk of council 

Laurie Sabin was sworn in by Law Director Jim Juliano and immediately assumed her new duties.

Public comments

Coventry School building: Ten citizens 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. Most speakers represented organizations that are tenants of the building and expressed a desire that the building continue to serve as an arts center. Several speakers reiterated previous comments, so those have been omitted.

Jack Valancy of the Ensemble Theatre Board, said that Ensemble received the first communication about the changes on May 9 and met with school board members on May 30 and City Council Member Mary Dunbar and Economic Development Director Tim Boland on June 2. Tenants have met and advocated for an arts and culture center and for being incorporated into discussions. He pointed out the economic and cultural benefits of the current tenants of the fully occupied building, with combined budgets of more than $3 million a year, and payroll taxes for 82 employees and another 124 independent contractors. There are more than 2,000 volunteers and 5,000 clients of the organizations, which affect more than 90,000 individuals. There is great synergy with the Coventry Village Special Improvement District, the public library, and the P.E.A.C.E . Playground. This sort of an outcome was envisioned in the 2008 Coventry School Report.

Frank Lewis, a Washington Boulevard resident who lives across from the school, spoke about the lack of communication with and from officials, [and] only hearing about the sale via a press release. He urged transparency and said neighbors are stakeholders who support the current tenants who are “fantastic neighbors.”

Martin Cosentino of the Ensemble Theatre Board remarked that Cleveland Heights claims to be “home to the arts,” and should save the Coventry building for this purpose. He detailed programs that take place and the involvements of so many residents in the present tenants’ activities. Redevelopment into commercial and residential uses would not consider the current tenants’ sacrifices to establish themselves in this space.

University Heights resident Brady Dindia, of Artful artists’ studios, spoke. This organization was the last tenant to move in and build out its space. She thanked all the others for welcoming Artful when it opened in March 2017. Cleveland Heights has one of the largest concentrations of artists in the county, but many must look elsewhere for studio space; this is the need Artful is designed to meet. She reflected on the partnerships and synergies among organizations that are active in the building, having grown organically, and expressed the desire to work with council toward the best solution.

Amy Rosenbluth, of Lake Erie Ink, said that organization, which has been in the building for five and a half years and “gives youth a safe, supportive and enriching place for out-of-school time,” serves almost 500 young people, from kindergarten through 12th grade, 170 of them from Cleveland Heights. She cited cooperative programming with Ensemble Theatre and Family Connections, which is only possible because they are in the same building. She asked council to take time to look at the creativity, synergy and creative place-making happening at Coventry and, at the least, grant the tenants a one-year lease.

Alexander Leslie, of the Lake Erie Ink board, included the playground in his discussion of his family’s use of Coventry. He spoke of the pride the city should take in having invested in Lake Erie Ink through CDBG grants. He encouraged council to use “judicious thought and transparent action,” and noted that the building’s tenants embody the character of Cleveland Heights.

Claire Robinson May, a Somerton Road resident and a graduate of Coventry Elementary School, pointed out that no organization can run effectively on a month-to-month lease and pled for a commitment to what has grown organically. She urged involvement of neighbors and merchants in long-term development of a neighborhood arts and education center under the stewardship of the city.

Deanna Bremer Fisher, FutureHeights’ executive director, invoked the [city’s] master plan, approved on March 17, citing many sections verbatim supporting the case for a home for the arts and a hub for culture. What was an empty building has become a center. She pointed out that FutureHeights has hired a community builder with CDBG funds, and was able to do this by reducing expenses with the nonprofit’s move to the Coventry building. She asked council to show leadership by granting 12-month leases, looking toward having the request for qualifications (RFQ) include welcoming an arts and culture center, and granting the tenants 60 to 90 days time to study the possibility of such a center. If not feasible at Coventry, she requested [that the city] consider finding another location for a center in the city. Ideally, she desires that the city partner with FutureHeights to redevelop this building as an arts and culture center.

Celeste Cosentino, Ensemble Theatre’s executive artistic director, noted that the theater, now in its 38th season, was the first tenant in the building. She [said she was] most concerned about the rapidity of the decision under discussion, and advocated for the opportunity to deal with a possible move or takeover of the facility. Her vision for this site is a “mini Cleveland Museum of Art.”

Cindy Penter, a Burlington Road resident, [said she] is new to the city and chose to move here because it is vibrant and diverse. She has a studio at Artful and was shocked to get the notice last month. She referred to a center she knew in Geneva, Switzerland, and hopes to make such a place at Coventry. She concluded that inner-ring suburbs may be deteriorating, but Cleveland Heights is alive and a “home to the arts.”

Lee Chilcote, of Delamere Road, is a 45-year resident and a former member of city council. He spoke as a citizen in support of the tenants, describing Coventry Village as like Greenwich Village, and in need of preservation. Chilcote looked into the May 15 draft of the request for qualifications and request for proposals (RFQ and RFP) and noted these do not recognize nor mention the building as an active arts and culture center. He cited a study the school board did in 2008, which recommended such use, stating that this mission has been carried out. He noted that the draft RFQ and RFP are disconnected from what the citizens called for in 2008. He said the draft provides for a developer to conduct public meetings, but he asserts the city should do this. The draft does not recognize the investment and commitment of current tenants. He urged that the future process should recognize the current arts and culture center, be done in a public manner, and that the school district and city should issue a commitment that tenants can stay until July 2018 and receive six months notice if they must vacate.

Coventry Village SID renewal

Council passed the Special Improvement District (SID) plan unanimously, without comment or changes.

Civil Service Commission appointment

Council appointed Hugh Weinberg to the civil service commission.

Energy conservation bonds

Council approved the issuance of bonds to pay the costs of acquiring and installing energy conservation measures in city billings and facilities in the maximum principal amount of $6,050,000.

LGBT Pride Month

Council declared June 2017 as LGBT Pride Month.

CDBG agreements

Council approved the following Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) fund agreements and amounts to:

  • Cedar Taylor Development Association - $10,000 for financial assistance with costs relative to the implementation of streetscape enhancements for the business district.
  • Cleveland Tenants Organization - $7,000 for partial funding of its telephone information services which provide information about the Ohio landlord-tenant laws and fair housing laws to low- and moderate-income residents of the city.
  • FutureHeights - $30,000 for Community Capacity Building Program.
  • Gesher - $5,000 for Gesher Benefits Referral Program.
  • Heights Community Congress - $6,000 for educational programs on diversity in our community.

Water and sewer rates and regulations

Council passed an ordinance that was necessary due to the elimination of the division of water, which will be replaced by the renamed division of utilities.

Sanitary sewer system consent decree

There was a first reading of a resolution authorizing the city manager to enter into a consent decree relating to improvement of the environment and the city’s sanitary sewer system. The city takes seriously its environmental stewardship and states it intends to comply with the Clean Water Act with regard to discharge from the sanitary sewer system. The city’s sanitary and storm sewer systems were designed and built over 100 ago under accepted engineering practice for the time. Over the years, the sewer system has developed the need for improvement and compliance with current engineering practices. The proposed consent decree will lead to enhanced management, operation and maintenance of the sanitary sewer system and will lead to a plan for capital improvement, to be negotiated in a second consent decree.

Sewer rates increase

Sewer improvements necessitate increased rates; there was a first reading of a resolution raising rates gradually over three years. The rate on Oct. 1 of this year would be $41.03 per 1,000 cubic feet of water consumed (MCF); by Oct. 1, 2020, the rate would be $43.45 per MCF. A homestead sewer rate for eligible seniors and other affordability programs will be established before October. Melissa Yasinow commended city staff for their hard work on all this sewer legislation.

Sale of Coventry School

Council authorized the execution of a non-binding letter of intent with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District concerning a partnership relating to the sale of Coventry School.

At this point, council members commented in response to the earlier citizen comments:

  • Michael Ungar asked staff to respond to Lee Chilcote’s statements, inquiring whether an arts and culture center is off the table. He desires that the letter of intent not guide the process to a foregone conclusion. City Manager Tanisha Briley answered that all is open; the possible uses are not in the draft.
  • Mayor Stephens stated there would be time for discussion before making decisions.
  • Mary Dunbar reminded all that this is only a letter of intent.
  • Melissa Yasinow responded that she shares a lot of frustration with the speed of action with the tenants, but also understands the position of the school board, which can only legally transfer the building to certain entities. As a neighbor, she cares greatly about this property and sees it as an amazing developmental opportunity to work with all stakeholders. She pledged transparent communication.

BottleHouse outdoor dining

Thirty square feet of city sidewalk will be leased to the BottleHouse Brewery (Dos Neighbors LLC) for $65 per year for five years to expand outdoor dining at 2050 Lee Road.

Zoning variances

Council approved the following six zoning variances to:

  • Nan and Hugh Sullivan, 2939 Scarborough Road, to permit a portion of the house to be set back 46.93 feet.
  • Fairmount Presbyterian Church, 2765 Fairmount Blvd., to permit a driveway to have a zero-foot setback at the rear property line.
  • Fairmount Church, to permit a 3.5-foot setback of a parking lot to the rear property line and two curb cuts.
  • John and Anya Rudd, 2178 Harcourt Drive, to permit an 8.5-foot fence in a portion of the rear yard.
  • Stephen R. Hanley, 1490 and 1494 Rydalmount Road, to permit one garage building to be built on two parcels.
  • Stephen R. Hanley to permit a one-car garage.

Nuisance property abatements

Council approved abatement of the nuisances at 931 Nelaview Road and 3384 Silsby Road. Mary Dunbar praised the housing department for dealing with nuisances and for its improved staffing.

Sale of K-9 officer to his handler

K-9 Officer Argos will be sold to his handler when they both retire later this year, as is customary.

Mayor’s report

Mayor Stephens stated that Cleveland Heights is a vibrant and sustainable community and will soon create legislation to support sustainability and reduce the city’s carbon footprint and lower gas emissions.

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.

Read More on Cleveland Heights
Volume 10, Issue 7, Posted 1:57 PM, 07.25.2017