On May 3 vote 'no' on 9, 'yes' on 10

There is a great deal wrong with the way economic development gets done, not just in Northeast Ohio but throughout the United States. Governments of older cities and suburbs have little clout when seeking to redevelop blighted districts or attract new housing, commercial or industrial projects. Tax abatements are de rigueur. Private sector developers hold the cards and can easily move to the next town over if city officials stand in the way of maximum profit.

This system needs fixing, but cities like ours do not have the luxury of deferring development until some unspecified time when conditions are perfect, or even when incremental reform has occurred. Aging municipalities needing revitalization must work with what exists now.

Cedar-Lee-Meadowbrook is important—not just for Cleveland Heights. New housing and amenities in close-in suburbs can attract residents who might otherwise live near or beyond I-271. Curbing sprawl, counteracting the drive to pave over remaining forest and farmland, is an environmental imperative for the entire region.

As longtime Cedar-Lee neighbors, we saw the city-owned parking garage on Tullamore Road rise in 2007 to sweeten the deal for prospective developers, only to watch the plan for a mixed-use development collapse in the recession of 2008. Although we are not planners or designers, we have long envisioned retail and housing on the vacant lot at Tullamore and Lee roads, making the fractured commercial district whole. Along with new residential units on the site of the current municipal parking lot, the currently planned mixed-use building, given final approval by the city’s Architectural Board of Review in March, will add density and the urban energy that comes with it. It will also complement the existing apartment buildings at Meadowbrook and Lee.

Not all Cleveland Heights residents favor building on the Lee Road site. A small but vocal group has been agitating for several years to turn it into a park. Not satisfied with the current plan for a smaller park and additional green space, they have masterminded Issue 9, which will appear on the May 3 ballot. It asks, “Shall the proposed ordinance creating a public activity park on the 1.07 acres of City owned land at the corner of Lee Road, Tullamore Road and Meadowbrook Boulevard be adopted?”

The notion peddled by Issue 9 proponents (which has morphed over the years from a “world-class park,” to an “activity park,” and lately to a “public square”) is little more than a pipe dream. Its supporters have proposed no way for our cash-strapped city to fund construction or maintenance.

Even if Issue 9 passes, it is unlikely the ordinance can go into effect. 

First, its wording is self-contradictory, stating both that, “a public activity park be created,” and that “[a]ll construction activities associated with the Site be suspended . . .” Without “construction activities” there can be no park unless it materializes by magic.

Second, according to the city’s law director, the initiative, if passed, could “run afoul of state and federal constitutional provisions barring laws that result in the ‘retroactive impairment of a contract’”—in this case, the city’s agreement with the developer. If the campaign to ratify Issue 9 succeeds, the city will undoubtedly face the cost of a legal challenge.

The Friends of Build CLM PAC is the campaign to defeat Issue 9. To contribute and request a lawn sign, go to www.buildclm.com.

Unlike Issue 9, Issue 10 is not controversial. It will change the city’s charter to permit city council to hire and direct its own clerk. We have written in support of this revision, and are glad council voted to put it before the voters.

On May 3, please join us in voting a resounding “no” on Issue 9, and a hearty “yes” for Issue 10!

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are writers, editors and longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at heightsdemocracy@gmail.com.

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 2:31 PM, 04.01.2022