by Bruce Checefsky
(Plain Press, October 2019) Residents and stakeholders of the Lincoln Heights Block Club (LHBC) met with staff members of both the City Planning Commission and Tremont West Development Corporation (TWDC), as well as members of the Seventh Hill design team to discuss a planned land use study for their neighborhood. The August 22nd meeting was held at the Tremont Tap House on Scranton and Starkweather. The Lincoln Heights Block Club service area extends along both sides of Scranton Road from I-490 to Fairfield Road. Landmark buildings included in the target area for the land use study include the Nestle Building on the east side of W. 25th Street; the Animal Protective League on Willey Avenue; the Fairmont Creamery on W. 17th; and the Tremont Tap House, Wagner Awning, the Tappan, and Scranton Elementary along Scranton Road.
“Our hope is to have a broad range of feedback from the community,” said consultant David Jurca, former associate director at Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collective (CUDC), and founder/principal at Seventh Hill, the urban design firm hired by Tremont West Development Corporation to conduct the Lincoln Heights Land Use Study. “We want to get an honest representation of the neighborhood, and Tremont, and follow through on the engagement process that is fun and interesting. Ultimately, we’re interested in honest feedback to help produce a plan that everyone can see themselves in whether you’re a business owner, recent resident, or full-time resident.”
Seventh Hill is a design consultancy dedicated to transforming people and places through measurable experiences, according to Jurca, by combining urban design expertise with tailored evaluation tools to help clients achieve their desired outcomes. Past projects with the CUDC have included COLDSCAPES: Design Ideas for Winter Cities, a book filled with small and large scale projects intended to ignite a creative spark in winter cities; Making Our Own Space (MOOS), an award-winning program focused on engaging and empowering middle and high school students with the skills to transform their neighborhood public spaces; an inflatable sculpture created from 300 yards of neon fabric and Winner of Chicago’s 2013 Activate Union Station place-making competition; and Pop Up Rockwell was a one-week experiment to test “complete & green street” improvements on downtown Cleveland’s Rockwell Avenue.
Robert Brown, an independent City Planning Consultant and former Director of the Cleveland City Planning Commission, along with Clifford B. Herring, a former Economist and practicing architect, will assist as part of the Seventh Hill design team for the land use study.
“Lincoln Heights is a fragmented area with the topography and freeways. We want to try to find ways to make it more of a cohesive neighborhood,” said Brown.
“We are working very strongly and directly with Tremont West Development Corporation and their relationships with the neighborhood,” added Herring. “We want to know what the resident’s want.”
The Lincoln Heights Land Use Study came about several years ago in conversations with the Lincoln Heights Block Club. With future development on the rise, questions about how the developments projects can work together, what issues exist in the neighborhood and concerns about limited parking, a study was needed to understand future land use, according to Cory Riordan, Executive Director of Tremont West Development Corporation.
“The conversations started on a study on parking and land use, but the City of Cleveland does not allow parking as a use for the casino funds that were accessed to support the study,” he said.
Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack provided the funding; City of Cleveland City Planning Commission staff member Matthew Moss worked on the planning. A year later, the land use study kicked off.
After receiving the grant funding, TWDC initiated a competitive process to identify an urban planning firm to conduct the study. Interviews were conducted and Seventh Hill was hired based on their strong proposal to “listen to the neighborhood” according to TWDC Executive Director Riordan.
“A steering committee is in place that includes many neighborhood residents as well as the developers that have land holdings in the area,” said Riordan.
The steering committee includes Khalid Hawthorne, Dharma Valentin, Randy Norfus, Sharon Harvey, Karen Connavino, Henry Senyak, Georgiann Franko, and others.
“I’m really excited to see this kind of proactive engagement especially when it comes to a lot of the issues we hear about in the neighborhood around parking and development,” Councilman McCormack said to the crowd of about thirty residents, business owners, and developers packed into the second floor of the Tremont Tap House. “If you can set a plan before development happens in the neighborhood you can really guide it. We need to get ahead of the process.”
Members of the Lincoln Heights Block Club continue to meet and advocate for their rights, despite a recent break with Tremont West Development Corporation that took place on April 18th when a majority of TWDC’s Board of Directors cast a vote in favor of suspending the relationship between Tremont West and Lincoln Heights Block Club. The break in their relationship occurred over a disagreement on voting rights for landowners and the block club’s right to self-govern.
Incidental expenses like printing handout fliers for future meetings and informing residents about the goings on in this diverse neighborhood have fallen to Chairperson Lincoln Heights Block Club Chairperson Henry Senyak. With the help of Tremont Tap House and other local businesses, Senyak has managed to weather the fallout between TWDC and LHBC.
“We didn’t ask for this,” he said in a phone interview with the Plain Press.
Neither Tremont West Development Corporation nor Lincoln Heights Block Club has since made attempts to settle their differences. For now, the two groups don’t discuss their differences in public. The goal is to provide a forum for community engagement in the Lincoln Heights Land Use Study.
Following an overview of the study by Seventh Hill’s Jurca and his associates, people were broken out into groups to further discuss their ideas and concerns for improving the neighborhood.
Greg and his wife Anna, who have lived along Scranton Road for the past 15 years, expressed their concerns that the density of population created by new multi-story apartment buildings will change the character of the neighborhood, the very reason why they moved to Lincoln Heights in the first place.
“We want to preserve the diversity of the people and character of the architecture,” he said.
“There’s going to be a lot of additional traffic with the multi-use construction in the neighborhood,” added Anna. “That’s the trade off. You have more density, you have more people.”
A few tables away, Adam Waldbaum was talking about, “getting outside our own prejudices and our own ways, and recognizing the modern version of a thriving neighborhood….”
“Instead of grants going to study this or study that, how about grants going into an income bearing fund that pays for the increase in property taxes for those that can’t afford it. Developers can be asked to contribute because as a developer, I’m not against the fabric of the neighborhood. We shouldn’t be pushing people out of their homes. The ethnic diversity is why we want to be here.”
Clyde Simon, Artistic Director of Convergence-Continuum Theater, Cleveland’s uniquely up-close, personal and intimate theater located in a 150-year old house with a storefront on Scranton Avenue, would like to see more green space.
“We’ve never had a problem with parking,” he said. “On our end of the street, we’re the only business there. We’re open just a couple hours on the evenings and weekends. We’re hoping the vacant lot next to us turns into a mini-park.”
That might change depending on the outcome of the Lincoln Heights Land Use Study.
More focus groups and community meetings with Seventh Hill are scheduled for October and November. Jurca and his associates plan to have a finalized recommendation by December 20th.
For an update on this planning process see “Lincoln Heights land use discussion continues” on page 3 of this issue of the Plain Press, visit the website at http://www.plainpress.wordpress.com, or link onto tremontwest.org for more information.