City of CH amends landmark ordinance, adds economic development tools

At its March 4 meeting, Cleveland Heights City Council passed legislation amending its landmarks ordinance, and enabling the city to become a Certified Local Government (CLG) in the state of Ohio. In doing so, it joins 73 Ohio communities that already have CLG status. It also passed legislation creating a Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) that will assist the city with transferring property and facilitating economic development.

Council Member Michael Ungar introduced the landmarks ordinance, with Vice Mayor Melissa Yasinow seconding. The legislation passed on emergency, with all five members in attendance voting “yes,” enabling the new legislation to go into effect immediately.

The Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission has designated more than 50 landmarks since 1973, when CH City Council created it to preserve and protect buildings, works of art, and other objects of historical or architectural value to the community.

The enhanced legislation strengthens the landmarks ordinance, enabling the city to participate in the Ohio Certified Local Government program, which entitles eligible communities to apply for matching grants that can be used to identify historic resources, nominate eligible properties and districts to the National Register of Historic Places, further community education on historic preservation, and preserve and rehabilitate historic properties.

At CH City Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting, which also took place on March 4, Council Member Jason Stein had expressed concerns about the amended landmarks legislation, saying that specific provisions were “a gross government overreach” and “went well beyond what was needed for becoming a Certified Local Government.”

Council members negotiated last-minute changes to the legislation to satisfy Stein’s concerns, including removing the ability of the city to landmark properties without owner consent, and reducing the time limit for demolition disapproval from 12 months to the minimum of four months required by the state’s CLG program.

Ungar said that the legislation “represents another tool [for economic development] in our proverbial toolbox.” He noted that the legislation “intersects with a very exciting project,” referring to a proposed redevelopment of the former Medusa Cement Company building at Mayfield Road and Monticello Boulevard that would use state historic preservation tax credits. The project would transform the vacant property into a 12-unit apartment building, demolish the small office nearby, and construct 24 townhomes on the parking lot. Passage of the legislation at the March 4 city council meeting, and an expected landmark designation by the city’s Landmark Commission on March 13, would enable the developer to apply for the state tax credits by the April 1 deadline.  

Yasinow thanked Stein for sharing his concerns and working collaboratively. “This squarely fits not only with the development that’s happening in Cleveland Heights, but with the enactment of our master plan, focusing on historic preservation and encouraging vibrant communities,” she said. She opined that passing the legislation by emergency “shows that council can be collaborative, that we are agile, that we are decisive, and that we are strong economic stewards for Cleveland Heights.”

Several council members recognized the efforts of city staff in preparing the legislation, especially Kara Hamley O’Donnell, historic preservation planner for the city, who has, for 23 years, advocated for strengthening the city’s ordinance.

Later at the meeting, Yasinow introduced an ordinance creating a CIC and authorizing the city manager to file appropriate articles of incorporation. Council Member Kahlil Seren said that he would vote “yes” for the legislation, but expressed his hope that a future version of the ordinance would add more private sector people to the organization’s board and allow them to choose their own officers. All five council members present (Council Member Mary Dunbar was absent) voted to pass the legislation.

Deanna Bremer Fisher

Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.

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Volume 12, Issue 4, Posted 8:08 PM, 03.11.2019