Reaching Lincoln Heights proposal outlines aland use plan for Lincoln Heights neighborhood
by Bruce Checefsky
(Plain Press, March 2020) During the third and final community meeting held 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 18 to 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 Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack. Seventh Hill consultants have been reportedly paid $10,000 for the study which is expected to be completed this spring.
The Ohio City based consulting firm, Seventh Hill, was founded by David Jurca, former associate director at Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collective (CUDC). 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.
Jurca opened the January meeting with a summary of community feedback which included five main project goals created by a steering committee composed of neighbors, business and property owners, and a City of Cleveland representative. Among the goals included were: an opportunity to invite all voices from the community to share their expertise; establish a community vision for the types of land 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.”
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 are heard and their financial situations considered at a time when large scale development projects multiply 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 for existing residents. Developers would pay into the fund an amount determined by the size of the development.
All funds will be held by Tremont West Development Corporation. A committee composed of TWDC Staff, Block Club Chairperson, and a Developers 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. Individual applicants could receive a maximum of $1,500.00 per property based on a determination of need.
“There’s a real potential for a big stink,” said Georgiann Franko, a longtime resident and homeowner of Lincoln Heights. “The community development corporation has their committee when it comes to distribution of the money. They alone shouldn’t decide how it gets used.”
Adam Waldbaum, owner and president of SoLo Development, with residential and commercial properties in the Duck Island and Tremont neighborhoods, supports any initiative that helps to keep people in their homes. He believes that investors and developers should act responsibly when acquiring properties for redevelopment, adding that the strength of a community is in its multigenerational, economic and racial diversity.
Waldbaum supports putting money back into the community in the form a per-unit fee similar to Lincoln Developers Fund but believes that the local community development corporation is the wrong place to deposit and distribute the funds.
“Just look at what Tremont West Development Corporation did to the Lincoln Heights Block Club,” he said. “The block club didn’t agree with TWDC policies, so they were dropped. TWDC has not been an honest or good friend to those people.”
Sustainable Community Associates, a community development firm responsible for Tremont’s Fairmont Creamery, Wagner Awning, The Tappan, and The Lincoln (currently under construction), reportedly supports,in principal, a developers’ fund.
“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 said in response to a Plain Press request for comment. “The Reaching Lincoln Heights plan draft 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.”
Three weeks later, Seventh Hill presented a final version to the Lincoln Heights Block Club at their monthly meeting on February 10th in the basement of St. Augustine Church in Tremont. There were very few changes to the original proposal, according to Jurca, who began the night by thanking local residents for participating and contributing to the vision outlined in their proposal.
“Not every neighborhood in the City of Cleveland is this engaged in the work. It really makes a difference at the end of the day to have people that attend meetings and share their ideas honestly,” Jurca said. “It’s been a great experience to work with all of you.”
Parking options for the growing neighborhood were discussed including the use of parking apps to manage and identify available spaces at specific times of the day or night. Their recommendations suggest working within a shared parking agreement in three major zones along West 25th Street near Porco Lounge and Tiki Room where new development is likely to start soon; Willey Avenue and Scranton Road where conversations about parking have already taken place between the Animal Protection League, Liminis Theatre and The Lincoln; and Barber Avenue and Scranton Road near The Tappan where shared parking could be coordinated with Scranton School in the future.
Gateways to the neighborhood were suggested as signature entries with public art improvements and additional lighting to address safety concerns along West 25th Street and Wade Avenue, and to reinforce the identity of the neighborhood through new art and informative signage.
The annotated plan includes 23 different locations identified for new building development, green space, or street improvements. It calls for renovation of existing buildings along West 25th Street near Porco Lounge into studios or apartments. The plan proposes adding a new taller mixed-use building with ground level retail and neighborhood amenities to attract people, in tandem with another new apartment building across the street to create and reinforce a gateway into the neighborhood. The plan recommends creating greater density with additional apartment buildings closer to West 25th Street next to the existing St. Joseph’s Commons to provide a sense of scale into the neighborhood. SAS automotive site will eventually be developed into a large apartment building that could add to the comprehensive strategy of designating entries into the diverse community.
Apartment buildings should be designed to fit the neighborhood, according to Jurca, and not be imposing or feeling out of place, with special consideration given to building materials and size of windows and openings, shade from trees, and public bench features.
Another important site is the area near the Animal Protection League, which offers an opportunity to connect Brevier Avenue to West 19th Street with an open green space as a buffer between existing residents and new development. Sprawling views of the Cleveland skyline combined with a new apartment building and townhomes which, when built far enough apart so that residents aren’t looking into the backyards of other residents, could enhance the need for a public park. Construction styles should include more traditional designs in keeping with the single-family homes of the neighborhood and, as development expands along West 25th Street, more expressive design of the commercial district.
The intersection of Willey Ave and Train Ave is considered a no man’s land according to the feedback from residents. People don’t feel safe walking from Scranton Ave and Columbus Road to the West 25th–Ohio City RTA Red Line station or to the West Side Market particularly at night. Seventh Hill’s proposal includes a new housing development closer to Columbus Road, with Willey Avenue streetscape improvement and a new mixed-use building on the corner of Train Avenue and Willey Avenue. New gateway signage along the route could make it feel cohesive and unified.
Jurca and his team recommended extending the streetscape, public and green space along Willey Ave, crossing Train Ave, passing the APL, connecting to Kenilworth Ave and West 14th Street to Lincoln Park. A shared parking agreement between The Lincoln and Liminis Theater has already been discussed; a new pocket park with a wide tree lawn presents an opportunity for public seating and a place where residents can hang out. Wedge shaped public benches fastened to concrete pads will encourage people to interact while discouraging transients from sleeping on the benches.
Owners of the former Pizza Pan and Nuckley building sites near the corner of Willey Avenue and Scranton Road are developing various residential and commercial options that could add vibrancy to the neighborhood. The Lincoln Heights Block Club expects to review design proposals from both entities sometime in the spring.
Eye catching public art and bright lighting intervention with additional signage on the bridge underpass at Kenilworth Ave could build on the concept of developing strategic gateways to the neighborhood, Jurca pointed out. To the south of Lincoln Heights, opportunities in the future exist for a new residential development on the site of Scranton School combined with a public park to reinforce community goals. New town home development further south across the Scranton Road bridge and I-90 would add to the gateway experience.
The Seventh Hill final proposal will be submitted to Tremont West Development Corporation before heading to the City of Cleveland Planning Commission next month. While residential and commercial real estate developers have not committed to building any new construction based on their recommendations within the plan area, Jurca feels confident the proposal offers a path forward to the creating of a notable, densely populated and enriched community.
“We’re going to work on this proposal to make it easier to read,” Jurca said while wrapping up his presentation.
Mary O. Skoropys, a retired Cleveland Police Department Lieutenant and resident of Lincoln Heights, raised her hand to ask a question. “How does this affect all the people who own their property, with all this new development, and their taxes that keep going up?”
Senyak stepped in to explain that the Lincoln Developers Fund, which was mentioned earlier in Jurca’s presentation as a potential source of relief for property owners, was meant to help defray the cost of repairs to residents’ properties and not for tax increases to help longtime residents stay in the community.
“We assume property taxes increase with new development,” Senyak said. “We already lost eleven people from the neighborhood.”
Skoropys continued, “We went to a hearing and we were told that because of the improvements in the neighborhood our taxes went up.”
“We’re both retired police officers,” her husband, Walter Skoropys added. “You can’t beat the system.”
Following a discussion on the impact of new development on the community and escalating property taxes for existing home owners, a motion to vote was called, seconded, and the proposal was approved by an overwhelming majority of residents.
Tremont West Development Corporation is expected to post the 100-page final version of Reaching Lincoln Heights on their website in the near future.
When asked about the proposal process, Jurca replied by email, “I admire the boldness of the Lincoln Heights community to take on the complex challenge of housing affordability,” he said. “I was encouraged to hear how many long-time residents and recent residents wanted more opportunities to meet each other.”
PHOTO BY CHUCK HOVEN
February 21, 2020; The Tappan Building, Scranton Avenue between Auburn and Branch: The website TheTappan.com describes the building going up in the area served by the Lincoln Heights Block Club as a $22 million new development which will house 95 apartments and a locally owned bakery. The project is being developed by Sustainable Community Associates. It sits across the street from the Wagner Awning Building, another recent development by Sustainable Community Associates. Residents of the Block Club are working with developers in the neighborhood and Tremont West Development Corporation in hopes of setting up a developer funded pool of money to help existing residents in the area around the new developments with home repairs.