BOE can no longer abdicate responsibility for Millikin

In a single-family housing district, 11 acres sit almost abandoned. They’re home to a decaying building only used for storage, a historic stable now used for school district equipment, and some lovely, but uncared for, woodlands. This property is generating zero tax dollars for the school district or the city, and has been a community liability since 2006, when the CH-UH school district closed the Millikin school. An attempt to sell it for $650,000 collapsed when it was discovered that bringing the building up to code would entail millions of dollars in abatement. That revelation left the property essentially worthless, and the school board barely gave it another thought until this year, when the city of Cleveland Heights proposed a transfer of the property to the city, to entertain development proposals.

After acknowledging in March 2020 that it had no use for the property, the school board, in September, tabled the transfer of Millikin, citing three reasons: a lack of a revenue-generating proposal from the city, an inability to focus on this issue while managing the other needs of the district, and a desire to preserve the historic stables and woodlands. To these weak justifications I offer the following:

1. The district has a tax levy on the ballot for this election, ostensibly [due to] the district’s dire financial need. Yet, this same district has let a potentially revenue-generating property decline into worthlessness, while simultaneously failing to aggressively pursue any revenue-generating options. The district demands that the city bring it revenue-generating options. The city already indicated it is pursuing development for single-family homes—which are revenue-generating—but can do nothing if the district refuses to transfer ownership. The CH-UH Board of Education’s (BOE) refusal to marshal every option at its disposal, in the face of significant financial distress, begs the question of whether the district is serious about wanting this property to generate revenue.

2.  No one can deny that the school district is managing significant needs and competing priorities. However, if the financial health of the district is as much a priority as the district says it is (and insists that it should be for the entire community), don’t taxpayers deserve the board’s time and serious attention to this potential revenue opportunity? I want my public officials to take action, not make excuses and put off critical decisions. If not now, when?

3.  In 2014, the district conditioned the sale of the Millikin property on the retention of the historic Severance stables. Those who care about the stables’ preservation should go see their condition today. It is, unfortunately, a graffitied dumping ground for district equipment and supplies. If the district truly seeks to keep the stables—which is eminently possible with the right lot division—it should give the property the attention it deserves at present. Lot divisions could also preserve the miniscule park that was installed without community input, and some of the woodlands. Even 8–10 acres of development would benefit residents more than continued excuses.

Millikin neighborhood residents have chosen to live here as a destination, not a stopover to suburbs farther east. These same residents want larger single-family homes, to enable them to stay in this Cleveland Heights neighborhood. I expect our elected officials to listen and respond to the needs of residents. I encourage my fellow Cleveland Heights residents to tell BOE members: We cannot wait any longer. If it takes work, then do the work. But it is time for you to have the Millikin property finally serve the residents, not force us to pay for its decay.

Jessica Cohen

Jessica Cohen is chair of the CH Planning Commission, was vice chair of its Charter Review Commission and a Citizens Advisory Committee member. A law-school student at night, full-time corporate affairs professional by day, and a full-time mom, she is a proud Cleveland Heights resident, as are her husband and four children.

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Volume 13, Issue 10, Posted 5:53 PM, 09.30.2020