Draft of Reaching Lincoln Heights Land Use Plan to be presented to Lincoln Heights Block Club at February 10th meeting

Draft of Reaching Lincoln Heights Land Use Plan to be presented to Lincoln Heights Block Club at February 10th meeting

by Bruce Checefsky

(Plain Press, February 2020)         During the third and final community meeting at South Branch Public Library for the Reaching Lincoln Heights proposal, Cory Riordan, Executive Director of Tremont West Development Corporation, reminded the twenty or so neighborhood attendees that the project which began nearly 18-24 months ago was coming to a conclusion. 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 which is expected to be completed this spring.

David Jurca is the former associate director at Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collective (CUDC), and is the founder/principal at Seventh Hill, the urban design firm was hired by Tremont West Development Corporation to conduct the Lincoln Heights Land Use Study. 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, are project partners of the Seventh Hill design team.

“We’re moving towards winding this down,” Riordan said. “There’s a pretty extensive draft version but it is not by any means what will be presented at the Planning Commission. This is an opportunity to look at what they did with all of your feedback up to now.”

“Our timeline is to take this to the Lincoln Heights Block Club for their review on February 10, and from there to the City of Cleveland Planning Commission where it will be a document adopted as a guideline for development in the neighborhood.”

Jurca opened with a summary of community feedback which included five main project goals that were created by a steering committee composed of neighbors, business and property owners, and City of Cleveland representatives.  The goals provided an opportunity to invite all voices from the community to share their expertise; establish a community vision for the character, and types of uses for development in the area; initiate a strategy for parking needs and improve mobility connections; and prioritize goals for large scale and smaller development sites.

Data for the study was collected through several public meetings along with on-the- ground night walks and visiting, parcel by parcel, to understand the scope of the neighborhood.

“We don’t want this to become like every other neighborhood,” Jurca said. “We want Lincoln Heights to retain its distinctive qualities.”

The proposal process started in August 2019 with site research and steering committee meetings. From there, Jurca and his team hosted focus groups and public events, and as the process begins to wind down, a rough draft proposal will be presented to the Lincoln Heights Block Club for their review and final approval.

Strengths of the neighborhood such as unique identity, local attractions, and proximity to downtown were contrasted with weaknesses including mobility challenges, visuals such as blight and repairs, and a need for better social life amenities. Opportunities for improvement include transit access and improving connections, while threats to the community include lack of affordability, safety concerns, parking, and a desire for design guidelines to regulate the flow and direction of new housing and business developments.

A key feature of the Reaching Lincoln Heights proposal is the Lincoln Developers’ Fund, a recommendation initiated by Lincoln Heights Block Club Chairperson Henry Senyak, which is a fee or levy placed upon new development projects that receive a 15-year tax abatement from the City of Cleveland. In an email sent to Riordan and Jurca a week prior to the public meeting, Senyak explained the need for creating such a fund: “Many Block Club members also feel that the clear definition of the yearly contributions into the Lincoln Developers Fund can mend several of the burnt bridges between our Membership, Property Owners, Developers, and TWDC.”

Senyak, who has been a central figure in making sure longtime residents’ voices are heard and their financial situations considered at the same time that large scale development projects increase in the neighborhood, believes a Lincoln Developers’ Fund could help with home repairs and other expenses residents on fixed incomes might have trouble paying for.

The fund is not meant to pay in full for projects but rather augment any costs associated with home maintenance. Fees would include $1,500 for single unit town homes, new single or multifamily homes along with several options for apartment complexes including a $1,000.00 per floor of the project for a period of 10 years or based on number on units versus floors of the project for a period of 10 years.

For example, apartment buildings with units 1 thru 20 would pay $1,000.00 per year for a period of 10 years; units 1 thru 40 at $2,000.00 per year for a period of 10 years; units 1 thru 60 – $3,000.00 per year for a period of 10 years; units 1 thru 80 – $4,000.00 per year for a period of 10 years; units 1 thru 100 – $5,000.00 per year for a period of 10 years; and structures over 100 units would max out at $6,500.00 per year for a period of 10 years.

All funds will be held by Tremont West Development Corporation. A committee composed of TWDC Staff, Block Club Chairperson, and a Developer’s representative will define the direction of the funds, and review applications made by property owners within the Lincoln Heights Block Club for eligibility, according to the proposal.  Eligible candidates would require a financial hardship to do minor repairs or to comply with City of Cleveland Violation Notices. There will be a maximum allotment of $7,500 each year of its existence. Applicants would receive a maximum of $1,500.00 per property (pro-rated by the applicant’s yearly income and savings).

“There’s a real the potential for a big stink,” Georgiann Franko, a longtime resident and homeowner of Lincoln Heights said. “The community development corporation has their committee when it comes to distribution of the money. They alone shouldn’t decide how it gets used.”

Sustainable Community Associates, a community development firm responsible for Tremont’s Fairmont Creamery, Wagner Awning, Tappan and Lincoln (currently under construction) reportedly supports in principal a Lincoln Developers Fund.

The single most crucial component in rejuvenating decaying urban areas is private sector participation, according to a World Bank report released in 2016. Massive financial resources are often not readily available; public sector funding is rarely enough. The report stresses that no one solution is universally acceptable but strong political leadership is essential. The successful use of land-planning and finance tools depend on sound and well-enforced zoning and property tax systems.

“I am happy with the progress that has been made and Seventh Hill’s ability to take community feedback and create a thoughtful plan,” Riordan responded to the Plain Press by email. “The draft Reaching Lincoln Heights plan incorporates many of the diverse community perspectives and presents it in a way that is easy to understand without compromising on key points, objectives, small details and intricacies that make Lincoln Heights a unique and special part of the Tremont neighborhood.”

The 100-page document will be presented to the Lincoln Heights Block Club on February 10th, where a vote is expected to support the proposal.LH_Sketch Plan_24x36_DRAFT

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