by Bruce Checefsky
(Plain Press, October 2019) In the basement of St. Augustine’s Walsh Hall on September 9th, under a flickering fluorescent light and hum of air conditioning, there was talk about tearing out the old rug and refinishing the wood floors. The Lincoln Heights Block Club was about to get under way with their September meeting. Fewer residents than usual were there.
Following an update by Lt. Bently on the City of Cleveland’s plan to install 1,000 LED cameras throughout the city to curtail crime, and TRI-C’s announcement of a renewed tax levy this November, the heart of the discussion at the meeting was a recap on a meeting that took place last month at the Tremont Tap House on the Lincoln Heights Land Use plan. “Reaching Lincoln Heights”, part of the Lincoln Heights Land Use Plan, was initiated by Tremont West Development Corporation (TWDC) and funded by casino revenues allocated to the project by Councilman McCormack. Seventh Hill consultants have been reportedly paid $10,000 for the study that is expected to be complete by December 2019.
Lincoln Heights Block Club Chairperson Henry Senyak attended the Tremont Tap House event and reported that steps were made to identify the needs of residents and address potential hurdles to overcome issues of parking, increased population density, and attracting small businesses, to name a few.
“People are concerned about large development projects,” said Senyak. “We need to engage the consultants and participate in the public meetings.”
Increased property taxes were discussed, with residents continuing to express their concerns over tax abatement and the likelihood that some longtime residents of the community may be forced to sell their property because their property taxes double or tripled, according to Senyak.
The Longtime Owner Occupants Program (LOOP), sometimes referred to as Gentrification Relief, was offered as an idea to assist residents with property taxes. The City of Philadelphia enacted LOOP in 2014 to protect longtime homeowners from abrupt rises in home valuations. Philadelphia City Council passed a bill in 2016 which assists homeowners whose property assessments increased by 50%, or more. Participants must also fall within income limits, and meet length of home ownership requirements.
The City of Cleveland has no plans to enact LOOP or assist residents with tax relief.
Adam Waldbaum, President, Solo Development, took the floor of the block club meeting to express his concerns over displacing residents from the neighborhood.
“I had a plan for development in the neighborhood, then I came to the TWDC Steering Committee meeting and heard about the Lincoln Heights plan which, to me, didn’t sound like a Lincoln Heights plan but more like a Tremont West Development plan,” he said. “I’m concerned about the parking and community displacement. If you choose not to sell your property, and your taxes go up, that’s a big issue for me.”
Waldbaum felt troubled about some of the meetings he attended over the past weeks, according to him.
“The Steering Committee clearly has an agenda,” he added. “They’ve been told by TWDC what the plan is going to be. My biggest battle right now is not with Lincoln Heights Block Club, not the City Planning Department or the Land Bank; it’s the density driven agenda from TWDC. I don’t like the plan. I don’t think it’s good.”
Senyak asked for more clarity on the density issue. Waldbaum assured residents that he was mainly interested in smaller projects.
“I see 25 to 30-unit buildings, some town homes, some singles, 1,100 and 1,800 square feet buildings. This is my vision. Increase retail along West 25th Street,” he said.
The discussion shifted to the ongoing disagreement between Tremont West Development Corporation and Lincoln Heights Block Club over voting rights and issues of self-governance.
Whether those issues will be resolved is yet to be seen, according to Senyak.
“Councilman McCormack supports this block club,” he said. “He believes we have a right to self-govern and create our own bylaws. We should be receiving the same services as every other block club receives, which includes postcard notifications, printing our monthly narrative in the TWDC newspaper, and providing staff to help us run this block club.”
Tremont West Development Corporation maybe trying to start a new block club in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood, independent of the existing block club, as a way to circumvent the ongoing disagreement, according to Senyak.
Cory Riordan, Executive Director of Tremont West Development Corporation, was asked by the Plain Press to respond to allegations that he plans to go create a new block club rather than reach a compromise.
In an email reply, Riordan stated, “Tremont West has not attempted to create a new block club in the Lincoln Heights area. At the moment, we are focused on Reaching Lincoln Heights, a land use plan for the neighborhood.”
Councilman McCormack did not respond to requests for a comment.