Identity crisis: Cleveland Heights officials write ‘vision statement’ for Severance Town Center


CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – The City Board of Control has one area of ​​oversight: the “S-1” zoning district, better known as Severance Town Center.

And the new administration still isn’t sure what it’s looking at, aside from the remnants of Ohio’s first enclosed mall, built in 1963 on the site of the family’s 125-acre Severance estate.

That’s why the five-member council – Mayor Kahlil Seren, City Council President Melody Joy Hart, Councilman Anthony Mattox Jr., Planning Commission Chair Jessica Cohen and City Appeals Board Chair zoning Thomas Zych – writing a new vision statement for the property. , located opposite the town hall.

They’re getting a lot of help from city planning director Eric Zamft, who says the permitted land uses are outdated, as is the zoning map and applicable code.

“You have two different sets of regulations that don’t necessarily talk to each other and it’s confusing,” Zamft told the Board of Control Aug. 24. “That’s why you get a self-storage place that wants to come in and it’s in the zoning.”

In 2017, the City Board of Control rejected an after-the-fact request by Walmart to continue using its former Severance store for a warehouse, after moving to Oakwood Commons in South Euclid four years earlier.

There were also ‘a ton of lost opportunities’ along the way because the centrally located land was still ‘treated like a shopping mall’ by the city, listed as another of the ‘historic and current obstacles’ to progress. local.

It is now largely owned by New York-based Namdar Realty Group, which bought the troubled property for $10.5 million in 2016.

In development terms, Zamft surmised that “too much flexibility leads to nothing at all, which contributes to more uncertainty”. He added that the city was considering an “innovative zoning component beyond the traditional retail-focused type we have today.”

This proposed vision will be shared with residents — as well as the real estate community — for “a lot of community engagement,” Zamft told the Board of Control, noting that the original land use plan was designed. in 1956, was not updated until 2001.

“And now it’s been another 20 years,” Zamft said. “When we have something that is not clear at the start, it creates an obstacle.”

Seren pioneered the idea of ​​creating a “heart of the city,” not just geographically, but with an intentional mix of civic, green, and other uses, including retail, dining, and recreation.

“It should be ambitious, and maybe not where we are now,” Seren said. “And if you asked anyone what ‘the heart of Cleveland Heights’ is right now, you’d probably get as many different answers as we could get residents.”

The notion of “downtown” can also be problematic, he noted.

“It can be complicated by the fact that we are an inner suburb,” Seren noted. “So historically when someone says ‘I’m going downtown’ it may mean they’re going up the rapid and down in the public square.”

Seren added that Cleveland Heights has “a number of business districts that serve as the ‘downtown’ for their neighborhoods, but not necessarily for the city” as a whole.

“So that’s something we might have to wrestle with when we also create the ‘heart of a city’, instead of having these disparate business districts that are more hubs of activity but don’t cannot be categorized as “downtown”.

Hart asked for more details on a section of the draft vision statement that remained open to “all” possibilities.

With Cohen on maternity leave, Hart, Mattox and Zych recommended refining this a bit to “ensure dynamic, cutting-edge development, spaces and uses based on innovative and flexible zoning to open up all expansive possibilities and strategically appropriate”.

Mattox said he particularly likes the idea of ​​”intentional, rather than reactionary, development with longevity, rather than ‘flash-in-the-pan’ overtones.”

Zych sees certain concepts that “signify movement, moving from a central location to becoming a heart of the city with authenticity, not just because we call it that.”

As opposed to “downtowns or lifestyle hubs” or replicas of city streets, why do people still want physical space? Zych added. “Because we can build something beautiful that no one wants to go to. We have to attract other things, but also have some momentum.

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