Ohio Supreme Court: South Euclid Should Repeal Oakwood Rezoning or Put the Issue to Voters
Citizens For Oakwood challenged South Euclid City Council's decision to reject the referendum petition in August, and the court ruled in the group's favor
The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled 6-1 in favor of a group trying to stop developers from building on the former Oakwood Country Club land.
The court announced today that it agreed with Citizens For Oakwood, which is made up of residents from South Euclid and Cleveland Heights, that South Euclid voters should decide whether the land is rezoned. The court has directed South Euclid to put the decision on the November ballot or repeal the decision to rezone the property.
South Euclid City Council unanimously approved the rezoning on June 27 so that developer First Interstate Properties, which bought 62 acres of the Oakwood land that falls within South Euclid in December, could build there. The land was previously zoned for residential property, and the company plans to build a mix of retail and residential properties as well as parkland.
The other 92 acres falls within Cleveland Heights, and First Interstate exercised its option to purchase that land in March.
After the decision was made to rezone the South Euclid side, Citizens For Oakwood, which is advocating that the land be converted into a park, collected more than the required amount of signatures to get a referendum on the November ballot to fight the decision. The group, as instructed in the South Euclid City Charter, submitted the petition and other documents to Keith Benjamin, clerk of council for the City of South Euclid.
Benjamin was ready to forward the petition to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, but First Interstate sent the city a letter Aug. 5 outlining three reasons it believed the petition was not sufficient, just a few days before the petition was to be submitted.
Law Director Michael Lograsso said the developer was right about one thing — one of the pre-petition documents was not supposed to be given to Benjamin. The city was not aware of this, he said.
“To the best of my knowledge, we have followed the same procedure, and until this issue came along and there was a protest that was filed (by First Interstate), obviously the law director made the determination that the procedure was incorrect,” Benjamin said in August.
Citizens For Oakwood filed a lawsuit and argued that everything else, according to the South Euclid City Charter, was supposed to be handed to Benjamin. The clerk of council is also the person responsible for submitting the paperwork to the Board of Elections.
But the city charter didn’t clarify who should receive that certified copy of the ordinance, said Lograsso, and if city law does not spell out those details, cities are supposed to refer to state law. Under the Ohio Revised Code 731.32, that document should have gone to the city auditor, not the clerk, he said.
However, the Ohio Supreme Court disagreed. Because the clerk of council in South Euclid handles all of the duties surrounding referendums, this pre-petition document should have been handed to him, too, according to the decision posted on the court’s website.
The court, like Lograsso, also reviewed First Interstate's other disagreements in the protest, including the argument that ordinances passed under emergency clauses are not subject to referendum. The court again disagreed.
“The Court granted a writ of mandamus to compel council to either repeal a zoning amendment ordinance or submit it to a vote of the city’s electors on Nov. 8,” according to the announcement on the Ohio Supreme Court website.
Officials from South Euclid and Citizens For Oakwood were not immediately available for comment. Cleveland Heights Patch will contact them and First Interstate Properties Thursday for comment.