A New Use for Oakwood Recalls an Old Controversy
Fifteen years ago, opponents in Cleveland Heights defeated plans to turn the country club property into a shopping mall
Neil Slobin of Cleveland Heights is taking a good hard look at plans for the proposed commercial development of the Oakwood Country Club property. He's skeptical about the need for another retail development so close to Severance Town Center and Legacy Village.
"All we need now is more shopping malls," he said sarcastically.
He's not convinced that high-end condominiums proposed for the site will work, especially given the glut of vacant homes in Cleveland Heights.
But he's not as irate as he was 15 years ago, when he helped lead the charge against a similar proposal.
"In the years that have passed, I think that everyone has gotten used to the idea that something is going to happen to the Oakwood property, and it would be, at some level, unpreventable," Slobin said.
In 1994, Developers Diversified Realty Corp. offered to pay $22 million for the site, if the property was rezoned from residential to commercial. The plan was to entice a major retailer, like Wal-Mart or K-Mart, to the 154 acres straddling Cleveland Heights and South Euclid.
Although no formal proposal was made, the plan ignited a furor. Slobin was a leader of the Community Coalition to Stop the Mart, a grassroots opposition campaign. The group gathered 11,000 signatures in Cleveland Heights and South Euclid.
More than 150 people marched to a Cleveland Heights City Council meeting to speak out against the shopping center, according to a report in The Plain Dealer.
Opponents argued that pulling down trees and destroying green space would place huge burdens on businesses and residents. They also claimed the big-box retailers would destroy local business.
In South Euclid, 80 protesters came to the city council meeting. Slobin argued more than economics was at stake.
"This is about values," he said, according to a Plain Dealer story "It's about families who care about the community that they and their children live in. It's about the stability of the neighborhood."
The uproar convinced South Euclid officials to abandon an economic impact study of the property. Eventually the plan died because the Winmar Company, Inc., which owned Severance mall, began courting the major retailers that were being eyed for the Oakwood shopping center.
According to a July 4, 1995, story in The Plain Dealer, a letter to country club members said the changes at Severance clearly showed "expenditure of additional time and effort ... would not be fruitful."
The latest plan has gotten farther than its predecessor. First Interstate Properties, Ltd., has already bought the 62 acres in South Euclid, and has a contract on 92 acres in Cleveland Heights. A total of 69 acres has been earmarked for parks.
To Slobin, the best use would be to turn the entire property into undeveloped green space. That plan is being floated by Citizens for Oakwood, a grassroots organization. The group is trying to raise $1 million as seed money to purchase the property. If that goal is met, group members hope to raise more from outside funders.
Still, he's not completely opposed to new stores and condominiums — he just wants to wait and see.
"It's just been a week since the news came out," Slobin said. "I'm still listening for what's going to develop."