Land at the former Oakwood Country Club property would better serve the community as a park than a commercial development, said the majority of South Euclid and Cleveland Heights residents who spoke at a public hearing on the issue Thursday night.
More than 150 people, undeterred by the cold and wet conditions outside, crammed into South Euclid City Council chambers to say their piece. A few dozen were forced to stand against the back and side walls, while even more were pushed out into the hallway, leaning in toward the doorways to catch every word.
The public hearing was for the city’s Planning Commission, which now has 120 days to give its decision to City Council on whether to change the zoning at the Oakwood site in South Euclid from residential to commercial. An additional public hearing will be held before Council takes its vote.
About 60 acres of the Oakwood site , the same developers behind Legacy Village, Steelyard Commons and Willoughby Commons. The company has said it plans to build a mix of retail, residential and parkland at the site and
Those plans don’t make sense for the area, said
“We’re saturated with retail,” said Brian Zuccaro, who lives just down the street from the property. Citing the vacant storefronts around South Euclid, Cleveland Heights and University Heights, Zuccaro said the property will just be another blight in the future.
“The reality is going to speak to this 20 years from now,” he said. “(First Interstate Properties) can do what it wants to do, but we should be prepared for the fall.”
Several people said that they feared another Randall Park Mall situation, the indoor shopping mall that was forced to close in 2009 after a decline in patronage. Mark Byrne, a South Euclid Resident, called the proposal an “easy button” for city government officials hoping to bring in additional tax revenue.
“Let’s invest in the city and build assets, recreation assets, instead of whoring it out to developers,” he said. “How can we say we need more retail here? We’d be stealing from one place to give to somewhere else.”
Local business owners also spoke out against the proposal, warning that a new shopping center with big box stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot would hurt the businesses already established in the area.
“It would devastate the businesses here,” said Steve Presser, . “I think the economics of the thing, if we look at this from the front end, is very short sighted. We’d be taking the neighbor out of the neighborhood.”
The big box sentiment was echoed by another Cleveland Heights resident, who said he was in favor of the Oakwood site being turned into a large park.
“I’ve never been places where I could not find a big box store, but I have been places where I could not find a place to walk,” he said.
Not everyone was opposed to the plan, however. A handful of speakers said they support the idea because it would offer a new stream of city income without an increase in taxes. Several of those in support said they hoped an IKEA home furnishing store would move in. The closest IKEA is in Pittsburgh.
“I think the developer should be able to do what he wants with his property, and the idea that it would kill other businesses is not founded — take a look at Beachwood Place,” said Hank Drake, of South Euclid.
Rocco DiLillo said he used to caddy at the golf course when he was a teenager, so he would have liked for the property to remain a golf course, but if that can’t happen, he’s happy to have a developer with First Interstate’s resume involved. He said the land becoming a park would cause the city more harm than good.
“The city doesn’t have the manpower or the funds to maintain it,” he said.
, although he did not speak. He declined comment after the meeting about anything specifically brought up Thursday night, saying only he thought it was “wonderful” that people were given the opportunity to offer an opinion.
Editor's note: In an earlier edition of this story, we reported that a majority of residents who attended the meeting opposed the plans to develop the Oakwood site. We have clarified the article, as a majority of residents who spoke at the meeting opposed the project, but it is unclear what those who did not voice their opinions thought.