Into the woods

“Cleveland Heights will be an environmentally sustainable community that uses green infrastructure to capture and slow stormwater . . . 

“The City will be required to contain additional stormwater as part of the ongoing efforts for environmental compliance . . . to promote green infrastructure investments that keep stormwater out of the City’s sewer system and treated via natural means like trees and native plants.”

So reads the Cleveland Heights Master Plan, adopted March 20, 2017. Unquestionably, the city has made progress in sustainability. Just one example is the award-winning Complete and Green Streets Policy. But policies are not actions, and only actions count.

Severance Center and the residential streets to its south appear on the Master Plan map of areas designated for “Tree Canopy Investment.” The adjacent Millikin woods were preserved in the early 1960s, to buffer the original Severance development from residential neighborhoods. The trees in these woods keep stormwater out of our overtaxed drains; they clean it before it returns to Lake Erie via a small stream leading into Dugway Brook. They filter pollutants from the air we breathe, and reduce heat in the summer.

Yet, in early March, Cleveland Heights staff and MetroHealth Medical Center officials presented the CH Planning Commission with a plan to expand the hospital’s Severance campus, which calls for removing a 40-foot swath of trees to create approximately 80 parking spaces. The city’s Planning Commission, Board of Control, and council members approved the expansion in short order.

Metro intends to replace the lost woodland strip with trees on islands in the parking lot; but these young trees will not effectively replace the carbon sequestration, oxygen transpiration and cooling capacities of the mature ones lost—some of them more than 100 years old.

Residents, including environmentalists and sustainability professionals, are upset. So are we.

Some background:

  • MetroHealth owns the land in question, but still must obtain city approval to develop it.
  • The long-rumored sale of the Millikin school property to the city for private residential development appears to be off the table. The CH-UH Board of Education currently uses it for storage.

We wholeheartedly support MetroHealth’s addition of a behavioral health unit. This service is much needed, and Severance is an ideal location for it. 

But that hardly means our city should ignore the sustainability goals in its own master plan. The proposed siting of new parking spaces should have raised a red flag early in talks with MetroHealth and its architect.

Just across from MetroHealth, at Severance Town Center, are some 70 acres of unused parking spaces. It should be unthinkable to strip nearly an acre of trees within sight of that sea of asphalt. The hospital might have been able to lease spaces from the mall owners. Employees and patients crossing the road could be protected by a crosswalk and a traffic light. Instead of exploring the feasibility of such an arrangement, MetroHealth officials and planning commissioners dismissed it out of hand.

At a special CH City Council meeting on March 24, council members heard more than 100 public comments against removing old-growth trees to add parking. Only three citizens who commented did not object.

Before the vote on the enabling legislation, Council Member Melody Hart introduced an amendment which passed unanimously:

“While moving forward on the project, the Applicant shall actively investigate parking alternatives, such as renting of Severance existing parking area, that could preserve the trees adjacent to the buffer zone.”

As amended, Resolution No. 28-2021 (PD) endorsing the MetroHealth plan passed with five “yes” votes. Council Member Khalil Seren voted “no.”

At press time, we received a tip: City staff “continues to work hard with MetroHealth . . . investigating parking options.” Here’s hoping . . .

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at

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Volume 14, Issue 4, Posted 8:17 PM, 03.29.2021