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Majority of Residents Speak Out Against Oakwood Proposal

Those opposed to the developer's plans voiced their concerns at a public hearing in South Euclid

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. 

Hank Drake March 11, 2011 at 02:40 PM
This is Hank Drake. Your article tells the story from Cleveland Heights' point of view, which is understandable. But it should be noted that the majority of South Euclid residents who spoke were in favor of rezoning. Many in Cleveland Heights do not understand, or refuse to accept, that the choices in zoning are residential or commercial, period. My complete remarks, which had to be abridged due to time constraints, are here: http://hankdrake.blogspot.com/2011/03/oakwood-reconsidered.html
maureen mcmahon March 11, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Why not a public recreation area ? Tennis, Golf, winter,cross-country skiing. Add a decent dining facilty and bring people into the heights area. Make us a Pay to Play destination. Attract young professionals to the community. They might even like it enough to buy homes here.
Adam Horwitz March 11, 2011 at 04:14 PM
Hi Hank, Thanks for commenting on the story. I know you had to leave the hearing early, but you should know that after you left several more South Euclid residents spoke out against the issue. Many of them said that they live very close to the property and were concerned about the prospect of additional retail, traffic, etc. -Adam
Adam Horwitz March 11, 2011 at 04:15 PM
Thanks for commenting, Maureen. We appreciate your input!
Joe Liptow March 11, 2011 at 04:29 PM
Sounds like Hank Drake D-R-A-N-K the Kool-Aid that SE city hall mixed up and Jane Goodman is pouring into Dixie cups. I say pick up that cup and throw that Kool-Aid back in their faces, then crumple it up and dispose of it properly. No littering please. Force Schneider into keeping it residential and see how much he is willing to sell it back for. Does anyone else wonder if a sweetheart....err under the table deal..... may have been cut with the principles of Oakwood CC. In any event, shame on them for allowing the possibility of big-box retail to devestate what could have been another green jewel in the emerald necklace.
Richard Hollis March 11, 2011 at 10:43 PM
The owners of Oakwood could have solved the entire problem by simply opening the club to the public. They could have kept their club and received income from people who would pay to play a round of golf or a few sets of tennis.
Michelle Simakis (Editor) March 12, 2011 at 12:11 AM
Thanks for chiming in, Richard.
Michelle Simakis (Editor) March 15, 2011 at 05:21 PM
We encourage readers to comment on the site and share their opinions; however, portions of both of your comments are not about the issues. Please refrain from personal attacks like these on the site. Blatant, repeated personal attacks will be deleted. I must apologize, Hank, I did not notice the D-R-A-N-K comment was in reference to your name when I thanked Joe earlier. I appreciate your participation on the site, but please stick to talking about the issues.
Joe Liptow March 15, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Hello Hank, I apologize to you sir if you indeed took my rhyme as a cheap shot. As for party affiliation, all I can say is that I'm not a party man and can prove it. I accept your cheap shot in return and look forward to sincere debate from here on out. Again, I’m sorry for the callous remark. As far as the "Deal" goes, I admit I'm disappointed. After trying to understand the Cedar Center moves and facing yet more commercial development with Oakwood, I am indeed suspicious. If there are no strings attached so be it and if there are I’m sure they are all legal instruments entered into amongst private individuals, at least I hope so. But, it doesn’t mean it is, was, or will be the best thing for the long term health, safety, welfare of our communities. I’m amazed that every effort in the world, or at least in this part of the world called Cuyahoga County, was not made to giving Oakwood a go as a PUBLIC golf course. Why not give it the old college try for say 5 years and see where we are at in 2016. The real estate market could be a lot better then, no? ---To Be Continued---
Joe Liptow March 15, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Not one White Knight is needed but for a lot of boots-on-the-ground working for the long term enhancement of the community. The county, cities, quasi-government agencies, University Hospital, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland State, the tax payers and even the principals of Oakwood CC itself should huddle up on this one. I would even let Mr. Schneider help with some appropriate development here if he agreed to buy Cedar Center for what Mayor Welo paid for it. I certainly wouldn’t expect him to pay for the millions that have gone into it since the purchase. Consider that the taxpayers up front contribution since they are already on the hook. Thank you for participating and looking forward to working with you. Joe J. Liptow, PE, LEED-AP & South Euclid resident since 1968.
Jane Goodman March 15, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Adam, your referring to the crowd as "residents" is misleading. I can only assume that was done intentionally, and I hope you can clear that up for your readers. Easily 85% of the people who spoke were residents of Cleveland Heights, not of South Euclid. The hearing was about rezoning a portion of South Euclid ONLY. And the majority of those South Euclid residents spoke in favor, or expressed their acceptance of the reality that FI owns the property and were only asking that traffic concerns be addressed, and in some cases "if it has to happen, at least spare us a Walmart." The latter can't be counted as speaking against the project, only as being resigned to it. Many of the South Euclid residents who were in the audience, and who I know support or accept the project, did not speak. And Joe, considering that you have no responsibility for managing our city, serving our residents or balancing our budget, but are free to criticize and snipe at those who do, your opinion hardly carries weight. It's easy to take pot shots, harder to actually have to consider the wants and needs of constituents who live in these neighborhoods, who are, in fact, eager to become part of this innovative project. But you only know that if you ask and listen, which are hard to do when your ears are always closed and your mouth is always open.
Hank Drake March 15, 2011 at 07:14 PM
Reposted: Joe. Joe, Joe, Joe... Taking cheap shots at my name, the type of which I last heard in elementary school? Is that the best you can do? Tell me, Joe: You're a Republican, so why don't you understand the concept of private property? And why do you feel the need to make the accusation of some kind of shady deal between Schneider and the Oakwood Club? Come on, it's not like there were any other offers for this land. The Metroparks never made an offer - nor have they publicly expressed interest. Likewise, the Severance Neightborhood Association was unable to pony up the money. You keep saying you want this to be a park. I wish it could all be a park as well. It would be a great dream to be able to keep the entire property that way. But we live in the real world. Further, how would future investors react if S. E. refused to rezone the land? Would any of them want to do business here ever again? Hank
Adam Horwitz March 15, 2011 at 07:15 PM
Thank you Councilwoman for your comments. You're absolutely correct that the majority who spoke were from Cleveland Heights, but even the majority of South Euclid residents who spoke, by my count, were against the rezoning. I'd say about four of the first six S. Euclid residents who spoke were for it, but after that residents consistently came out against it, many of them neighbors of the property concerned about reselling their house or having to look at a shopping center across the street. I think you are right, however, that I should have used the words " 'who spoke at' a public hearing on the issue ... " instead of " 'who attended' " and we will be issuing a clarification immediately. I, and definitely Patch, always strive to be as accurate as possible, so we appreciate our readers watching out for that. As for referring to the crowd as "residents," I did specify that they were both South Euclid and Cleveland Heights residents.
Hank Drake March 15, 2011 at 07:46 PM
Joe, regarding Cedar Center North, you'll get no argument from me. It was a messed up, Rube Goldbergian deal. It gives me headaches just to think about it. I don't think Schneider would buy CCN for what the city paid for it - he seems like a savvier businessman. And believe me, if I had the money I'D buy Oakwood, reclaim the land (because a golf course is not green space) and donate it to whoever would take care of it. Many of those opposed to rezoning cite environmental reasons. But the number one threat to our environment is the burning of fossil fuels, which can be traced to suburban sprawl. We must encourage people to return to urban and first ring suburban areas if we are to combat that sprawl. If I can ride my bike (pedal not motor type) to a local shopping center, that helps reverse consumption. And, if I can drive to say, Lowes (I refuse to shop at Home Depot) instead of heading all the way to the one in Willoughby, that's less gas burned. Again, as stated before, I'd love to see Oakwood become a park. But I think it's a little late in the discussion - the SE portion has already been bought. Maybe someone can save the CE parcel. In the Sun Messenger article when you ran for office, you were listed as a Republican - although I understand sometimes one needs to list a party just to get on the ballot. No problem, I come from a Republican family - although I don't like the party's current incarnation or it's leadership - but that's something for another forum.
Jane Goodman March 15, 2011 at 08:37 PM
Adam, thanks. Can you explain to me why your story and, it seems, most of the print columns and blog entries, especially Heights Observer et al, continue to focus on the folks who want a park, rather than the fact that they'd GET two parks; on the folks who object to the plans rather than on the plans themselves (a first-ever one-of-a-kind model green infrastructure center); on those who insist that there's too much retail around rather than discussing the fact that we don't benefit from it. Why not write about the legal liability that looms over the city's decision (see Shemo vs Mayfield Heights?) I just spoke to a class at Notre Dame. Those kids don't want a passive park, they want places where teens can go and shop and get part time jobs. Why not write about how much land in our city is tax exempt now, and what the impact on our budget would be if all of our 60 acres were taken off the tax rolls?
Joe Liptow March 15, 2011 at 08:41 PM
Hello Jane, We've been saying for a long time that Cedar Center was way over bid and recent financial maneuverings questionable at best. Oakwood has verified that. And now developing that 100 year old golf course to flow in as much money as possible into the SE City coffers is a way to balance some huge losses. Then again, I'm not really sure how much the big-box is going provide and I know a wonderful opportunity just got steam rolled/bulldozed by you a self proclaimed “greeny”. If I have wax in my ears then you surely have concrete or asphalt. Stick to the issues, please.
Jane Goodman March 15, 2011 at 09:25 PM
Joe, Oakwood has nothing to do with Cedar Center, which wasn't a bidding process, and I don't know what questionable financial maneuverings you speak of. Unless by "questionable" you mean something you weren't part of and therefore don't have details on. We'd be glad to answer your questions if you'd ask them. You don't seem to accept the facts that a.) we don't own that golf course, b.) we only have limited control, and that is only over the South Euclid parcel. And to say that my twenty-one years as an environmental educator, editor of books and teacher guides, trainer of trainers and current position with the RAP can possibly be denigrated to the level of "self-proclaimed greeny" is just, well, uninformed.
Joe Liptow March 15, 2011 at 10:45 PM
Jane, Cedar Center is related to the Oakwood Big-Box Proposal and to Cutter Creek and to the mess behind Alecis and to that misfit job at Liberty & Dorsh. Those were all bad decisions wrought on us by this administration and rubber stamping council. I commend you for being the only one to question the Stone Ridge proposal which eventually went bankrupt before the bulldozers showed up. I’ve read a lot about what SE City Hall has been doing. Reading and comprehending is a form of listening. Rarely are straightforward answers given to questions asked at city council meetings. Public record request are handled like they’re handled in Cleveland. Jane, one night you called me on my cell phone while I was in my front yard looking at the day’s remains of deforestation at Cutters Creek. Remember? You told me that you were glad that there were other “greenies” out there like yourself. As we talked we came to a point in the conversation where you said, “Joe, they lied to us”. Poor reception terminated our connection and I never did get an explanation. Well, I’ve cleaned the wax out and I’m ready to listen. We’re all ready to listen. Joe Liptow
Adam Horwitz March 15, 2011 at 11:11 PM
I think those are all excellent suggestions and in fact I had already started talking to people on a couple of them, especially the tax roll issue. I think those issues deserve a story.
Joe Liptow March 16, 2011 at 03:52 PM
To all those concerned about the fate of Oakwood, I didn't mean to have your attention diverted by bringing up past events that have taken place in South Euclid but it's not right to look at Cedar Center and Oakwood seperately. Community connectivity surely relates to an overall master plan, no? A couple points: 1)City officials pretty much admit that it’s about the money they THINK they are going to make off this development. Had they not spent/squandered (so far) over 20 million dollars on Cedar Center and over 2 million dollars on the Greenvale houses…the opportunity to purchase and maintain Grand Oak Park could have been an option. That is something that would have been done for the residents and NOT for the politicians. 2) There is currently NO signed contract between the Coral Company and the city of South Euclid that I know of. Maybe Mr. Ruben can shed some light on this. There has been NO formal proposal presented to the CH-UH schools. Questions have been asked and city officials refuse to answer. 3) The people who live in the surrounding neighborhood around Oakwood purchased their houses based on the property being zoned residential. Keep the property zoned residential.

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