A 'Fool on the Hill'

The hill I am referring to is the near legendary “Top of the Hill” in the Cedar Fairmount neighborhood. Is it a place, a property, or maybe even someday a project? For me, and probably many others, is it more likely a dream that never seems to end?Can this dream become reality?

Looking back over two years ago, the city distributed requests for proposals, seeking a development partner. Five interested teams responded. (Full disclosure: I, along with my former architectural firm, submitted a detailed proposal in partnership with a local development group. We were not selected and moved on.)

Fairmount Properties was first chosen. About a year later, for undisclosed reasons, Indianapolis-based Flaherty and Collins replaced Fairmount Properties. In July 2017, a Memorandum of Understanding was executed, and three months later, promising transparency, the city held the first public meeting to solicit public comments on the development. Unfortunately, due to limited planning information and project details, there was little of consequence to comment on.

The vocal public was mostly supportive and offered thoughts related to mixed-income and for-sale housing, compatible new businesses, and high-quality design. Density was considered acceptable and important. A call was made for the planners to consider urban design/placemaking implications, such as pedestrian connections, public space, building scale, streetscape, distributed parking, traffic movement, and other community priorities. The city promised transparency and an open public process.

So “now” arrives, and, almost nine months later, the city arranged the second public meeting in June. With anticipation and enthusiasm, we arrived at the community center to see and hear the updated planning for Top of the Hill. After introductions, history, schedules and other minutia from city officials, we were unfortunately treated to very little new or encouraging progress from the developer.

Flaherty and Collins’s attorney spoke in aspirational generalities and basically said the firm did not have time to produce any meaningful design or planning. The architects showed vague site plan diagrams, which were less compelling than the one produced at the first public meeting. This was followed by nebulous perspective images of nondescript building forms that could have been anywhere.

Apparently, the current thinking includes limited retail space, no hotel, no office space, an enlarged parking garage with a driveway adjacent to Nightown’s garden room, no identifiable public space, no townhomes, no for-sale housing, and an interconnected building filled with “resort-style” apartments. Maybe I missed something?

The meeting wrapped up with viewing stations lined up for the city, developer and consultants to answer questions. Comment cards were also provided. There was no open public commentary, no discussion, and no real sense of positive, productive timing or direction.

I must be the fool, because even after all this, I remain an ardent supporter of redeveloping the Top of the Hill property. I live in the district, get groceries, enjoy restaurants and bars, hear music, eat great pastries, visit my dentist, buy gas, purchase jewelry for my wife, meet friends, and live a nice life in Cleveland Heights. Why change anything?

I am absolutely convinced that well-conceived change, stimulating positive growth, can and will be very good for everyone. This gateway site into our city is an enormous opportunity to invest in a vital neighborhood main street district and infuse renewed identity and vitality. But we first need to establish the primary goal to plan it right, with the unwavering objective to get it done.

Our remarkable neighbor University Circle, working in partnership with many others, set a high target for development which it has achieved over the last 10 years. Within the greater regional framework, there is currently a serious and timely discussion about Northeast Ohio’s future. Our collective response to the challenge was simply stated by the Plain Dealer: “Let’s get together and headed in the right direction”.

Maybe, with a collective will, this could begin in Cleveland Heights. Or maybe not.

Paul Volpe

Paul Volpe is an architect and community planner, Cleveland Heights resident, and proud FutureHeights member.

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Volume 11, Issue 8, Posted 11:55 AM, 07.24.2018