Bureaucrats searching for the heart of Hessler Road?
By Lee Batdorff
Breaking News: Don Petit, city planner and secretary of the Cleveland Landmarks Commission on the afternoon of May 10, 2021 notified all involved parties that the final meeting and a vote on the Hessler proposal will be postponed from Thursday, May 13 to Thursday, May 27.
No reason for the postponement was given. Considering that this project was disapproved by the Euclid Corridor design review committee of the Cleveland Planning Commission on May 6th, it may be possible that the developers need the time to make revisions to respond to objections made to the plan on May 6th.
A CLASH OF CONCEPTS of what constitutes a healthy residential neighborhood, a historic district, and the role University Circle Incorporated plays for “our” residential communities, occurred at the April 22, 2021 City of Cleveland Landmarks Commission meeting. (YouTube recording of this meeting here.)
The commission received 60 email letters against the project and two for it. “It almost seems like there is a conflict of interest here (for UCI),” said Michelle Anderson, an agent for Progressive Urban Real Estate in Ohio City and a three year volunteer for the twice monthly Landmarks Commission meetings.
“It appears to me that before proceeding, this needed to be sold to the people in the neighborhood,” Ms. Andersen said. “What happened between the neighborhood and UCI during this project?”
“Lack of community engagement” in development process said Landmarks commissioner
“You’re selling it to us, but you haven’t sold it to the neighborhood. There has been a lack of community engagement process and that’s why we ended up here,” said Andersen. “This has been mis-handled with the community and now we don’t have a choice. Our hands are tied.” Ms. Anderson was one of two members of the nine commissioner, mostly volunteer board, who expressed support for the interest of the Hessler homeowners.
Julie Trott, meeting moderator said she was, “torn” between the proposal and its impact on the historic district and the protesting residents.
Anderson was more strident: “It wasn’t until February that the community learned of this proposal. Real estate deals take more than two months.”
“(This town) has a collective inferiority complex. We think something must be tweaked to alleviate the inferiority complex,” said Anderson.
“I see a street that is impassioned and shows a great deal of affection and love of the street. Something about this street is almost ennobling. People who lived there 20 years ago speak up for it.
“These people are very committed to this place. It is refreshing. I don’t see that very often in the City of Cleveland. I don’t quite understand the role of UCI?”
Does University Circle Incorporated wear several hats well?
Chris Ronayne, president of UCI responded: “UCI is a community services corporation that is one part community development corporation, one part improvement district and one part chamber (of commerce) for institutions…We respect our homeowners on the street.
“We agreed to a price reduction to accommodate the (number of) unit reduction,” Ronayne said of the project. “The dollars that go out of our pocket for that purpose go out of our youth education program. It’s heavy on our hearts. “The concession of (11 suites removed from the original 23 apartment plan) is the value of 30 student summer scholarships. This is my zero-sum game.”
Anderson said, “Sell it and get the maximum number of dollars, I understand that…at the same time I would think you are answering to the people on Hessler Road. It appears to me that before proceeding, this needs to be sold as incorporating a larger vision of the neighborhood. This is a unique group of people here.”
A community is more than development—what is a community however?
Anderson continued, “It’s not just development that makes a community. I don’t have a choice here. Everything is so focused on getting things built while we don’t listen to or respect other aspects of making a community.”
Mr. Ronayne countered that creating community is what UCI is doing. “We continue to reiterate input from the community. (We’re) building a complete community that accommodates the residents, rental opportunities and for sale opportunities.”
“Someone said to me recently you need more housing for ‘real’ residents. That put some of us off, when I shared it with staff members.
“This development meets the needs of students who cannot carry their furniture from their homes across the seas…students are real residents who want to walk to school.
“We try and find ways to respect all voices and move on a project…the alternative to (the proposed apartment building) is an empty garage, a dumpster, and a gravel lot.”
Later in the meeting Mark Fremont an architect with rental property on Hessler Rd. pointed out, “other suites on the street can be furnished and for a lot less than what they are going to charge at this place.”
Hessler leader: UCI is amidst ‘willful deceit’
Hessler Rd. an owner-occupier Laura Cyrocki said after the meeting, “When renovation at the Ford Drive buildings are referred to as ‘restoration’ and/or ‘rehabilitation,’ UCI is again using willful deceit to garner support for the development to those who would support the restoration and rehabilitation of old buildings. (This is) covering up the real motive to renovate old buildings for the purpose of increasing occupancy and rents is not something done in community spirit.”
The proposal does not encourage long term residency
Before speaking on his own behalf, Mr. Fremont, an architect who owns a 15-suite apartment building on Hessler read the comments of attorney Frank Ford, one of the founders of the University Circle Tenants Union in the 1970s and of the Hessler Housing Co-op in the 1980s.
Mr. Ford: “Microunits are not designed to encourage long term residency. (This type of development) turns the street into a dormitory community (where renters live in the neighborhood for two years or less).
“The neighborhood, (to be healthy), needs residents who count their tenure in years, not months. It is the longterm residents who organized refuse removal during a sanitation strike and organize the block watch campaign.
“A dorm hotel is not consistent with the historic status of the street,” said Ford.
Fremont said he rents to mostly graduate and post-doctorate students. “I have a building down the street with 15 units. Would the city like me to turn this into 30 units?”
The Hessler Hall of Fame and Museum garage:
A place cherished by the neighborhood or a mechanism to force a no?
“Obviously there is a bit of a campaign going on to defer, delay, to potentially use the garage as the mechanism to force a no (on the Landmarks Commission to this proposal),” said Chris Ronayne.
While the developers secured nine parking spaces in the UCI Ford Road parking garage at the going monthly rate, (currently $130 a month (the rooms will go for about $900 each)), to serve the 1975 and 1981 Ford Road buildings, there was concern by some commissioners that some tenants will, “take their chances parking on the street.”
“We could have gotten twice the number of letters of support, (from students living on Hessler). We didn’t do it,” said Ronayne.
After the meeting Charles Hoven, a Hessler owner-occupier said, “Students are concerned that the higher rents planned for the three buildings will result other landlords on Hessler raising rents as well. They are also concerned that the new suites will make parking (on Hessler Rd.) even worse than it is now.”
On March 19 the Case Western Reserve University student newspaper The Observer published an editorial about gentrification of the area that the Hessler micro-suite proposal would help bring about. Read it here.
Ronayne: ‘weaponization’ of word ‘community’ “hurts our hearts”
Ronayne was the most forceful speaker at the April 22, 2021 Landmarks Commission ‘Zoom’ meeting.
“We think you as a commission collegially talking with the architect and the planners (working this out) without a ballot box that gets stuffed with letters,” Ronayne stated. “We didn’t go out and get the alternative.”
Ronayne reiterated later in the meeting, “Because we didn’t go out to get the alternative, we didn’t think it respectful to the neighbors (to do this) …This project respects what the neighborhood is evolving into and (it) continues to evolve.
“If hurts our hearts to see the signs that say, ‘my community is not your commodity.’ The reason it hurts our (Ronayne and UCI staff) heart(s) is because it’s weaponized the word ‘community.’ (Without this project), we’ve taken the opportunity of being part of that community away from global visitors.”
Hessler leader: UCI weaponized development
Mr. Hoven, when asked to respond to Ronayne’s comment after the meeting, said:
“Chris Ronayne has totally disrespected the community on Hessler Road throughout this whole process, only notifying the community of University Circle’s plans after plans for the proposed development were well underway and the transfer of the property to the developers was imminent.”
Councilman Blaine Griffin gives early support for development, saying he ‘fell short’ for the Hessler homeowners
While Councilman Griffin’s comments showed that he wrestled with this development, he surprised the Hessler neighbors by coming out for the proposed development at this meeting and not waiting until the coming final Landmarks Commission meeting to make this announcement. He said he was being fair because the developers did everything he asked for. Then he said “I fell short because the neighbors are not happy.
“I wish they could buy the property but that did not happen…Hessler is a magical place—I understand the mystique around Hessler. My job is to provide fairness…The neighbors are very frustrated and disappointed.
“I want this to be a litmus test. Are we not going to remove any structures in historic neighborhoods? …this seems to come up in these historical districts. “We need to have a discussion as a city. Are we not touching or allowing any development?”
Councilman Griffin’s quest for ‘clarity’ on developing within historic districts
Griffin said, “There needs to be some clarity. I’m going to challenge the city planning group, (the Cleveland Planning Commission), and others to really give some kind of guidance because this kind of tension always comes up in these historical districts …then you have landowner rights and you have to listen to the voice of the residents.
“I support it. This probably was the most difficult development decision I’ve made because these folks really love this street. They really sacrifice to live there.
“At some point in time the city really needs to find ways to fortify the residents to get the kind support they need. So that residents making long-term sacrifices are supported.”
Griffin reiterated his speaking up for the Hessler homeowners. “The residents that make long term sacrifices, like the Hessler Housing Co-op, their president and vice president and the rest of their members really, really, know that their voice maters in this process.”
Councilman Griffin’s Hessler proposed sinkhole repair—will a total upgrade to modern drainage standards be pursued?
As for repairing sinkholes in the Hessler Road brick pavement, Griffin said “I identified some of my council discretionary dollars and cobbled them (together) from every corner (of city hall) that I could get at.” An April 7th memo from City Council President Kevin Kelley shows that the city allocated $108,000 for what could be called “an emergency repair” given the long term condition of Hessler Road being in a hydrogeologically challenged area. So far a schedule for the repair has yet to be set. (A previous version of this story erroneously said this figure was unconfirmed.)
In the view of Hessler homeowners, a full upgrade of Hessler Road to modern drainage standards, sometimes called “green drainage standards” would be equivalent to instituting the UCI initiated ‘Hessler Streetscape Plan’ in 2014.
The Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson administration did not approved this proposal after the Cleveland Planning Commission spent effort designing the project. According to Elise Yablonsky, UCI planning director, “The Mayor’s Office of Capital Projects also raised concerns about the installation of green infrastructure within the public right-of-way.”
Hessler activists don’t buy this and say that Mayor Frank Jackson declined funding the city’s $600,000 match to this innovative project—because Jackson instead turned his focus on the then upcoming Republican National Convention of 2016.
Then there is a school of thought that the real reason Jackson didn’t go for this was because he didn’t want every neighborhood to want $600,000 plus for projects such as this.
Hessler’s ‘green’ dream that was instilled by UCI
Now that the Hessler homeowners have been provided, (by UCI), a vision of improved storm water drainage of a rebuilt and well-maintained world class historic district, with modern “green” drainage techniques—and now the urge to institute this vision is great.
Making Hessler Road into a well-maintained historic district to show off, including properly rebuilt curbs and a full ‘green’ drainage revamp—is likely to cost in the million dollar plus range given the amount of the proposed budget for the 2014 Hessler Streetscape Plan. This was lead by UCI, involving the Hessler Neighborhood Association, and the City of Cleveland, working together in an attempt to request a grant from the Northeastern Ohio Regional Sewer District to produce the Hessler Streetscape Plan.
Hessler is ‘something special to protect’
Ben Faller, attorney for the Hessler Neighborhood Association said, “We as a city have something special that needs to be protected. As the first historic district in Cleveland, it is unique. It is because of the work of Hessler residents (in the 1970s and 80s), that we have a Landmarks Commission.
“This district is fully intact. None of the buildings have been demolished,” he said. “In fact this is a backyard (of 1975 Ford Dr.).”
“The garage, (the Hessler Hall of Fame and Museum during Hessler Street Fairs), served as part of the gateway to Hessler Street Fair, (coming in from Ford Dr.). (This) has been a series of missed opportunities that has brought us to this point.”
A ‘viable’ 1979 anti-gentrification plan for Hessler ignored by UCI
“The overall concept is not acceptable,” said attorney Faller. “Part of the history is that there is the 1979 plan, praised by the likes of the late Norman Krumholtz, (Cleveland’s planning director for decades and leader of the equity planning movement). A viable model of engagement (between UCI, the City and Hessler Neighborhood Association), is in the 1979 Hessler Road Area plan.”
“This building sets a dangerous precedent,” said attorney Faller. It would send the message that no historic district in the city is safe, (from historic buildings being demolished). If there is any place for the Landmarks Commission to take a stand it is here. Taken together these issues can’t addressed in a design review.
“Since you are reviewing the concept only at this stage, the Hessler residents invite you to visit the district, (and see it for yourself).”
Hessler leader says, “we don’t know about it,” to Ronayne’s statement that HNA “spokesperson” was approached about joining the UCI board
Ronayne said: “We have a long standing engagement with the president of the Hessler Neighborhood Association., (Pat Holland)…I talked with one of their spokespersons about the Hessler Neighborhood Association talking with our board about joining (the UCI board) as a non-profit organization.”
To this, Hoven, a Hessler leader, responded, “If he talked with anyone of us, we don’t know about it.”
Then, once again, at the 5:05:00 time stamp, Ronayne brought up again that “these people come to America and won’t have to furnish their suites,” in the $1,600 a month micro unit suites proposed for the site of the Hessler Hall of Fame and Museum.
Don Petit, Landmarks Commission city staffer, “historic districts can’t be frozen in time,” and recalls being kept on his toes by Pitter Pratt and Pat Holland
Don Petit, city planner and non-voting secretary of the Landmarks Commission stated that while “Hessler Road is a special place we do not treat our historic districts if they’re frozen in time. We determine if a proposal is appropriate. We don’t expect historic districts to be museum pieces. We look at projects on their merits…we haven’t weight in on the demolition of the garage.”
Mr. Petit recalled working with the late Pitter (Donna) Pratt and her surviving husband Pat Holland, (who still represents the HNA to UCI and is on the Cleveland Planning Commission’s Euclid Corridor design review committee).
“They were our main contact point between the commission and the neighborhood. They kept us on our toes…our historic districts have to grow…We have to resolve if the garage is important enough to save…I love the Hessler Street Fair, though I don’t think that the garage rises to the level of being an impediment of this project.”
Saving the Hessler Hall of Fame and Museum garage – they want to do it
Daniel Sirk, architect of the proposed micro-unit apartment building made a proposal on how to save the garage as a temporary structure just for the fair, in the yard along Hessler Rd. on the north side of 1975 Ford Rd.
Mr. Sirk’s informal proposal was to replace this side yard which now has well maintained bushes and grass with a 10 by 20 foot cement slab where a smaller structure, made from the garage could be temporarily erected for future street fairs. This is along with Rick Maron, the project developer repeatedly proposing turning this side yard, into “a gateway to the street fair.” At a previous Euclid Corridor design review meeting both Chris Ronayne and city planner Karl Brunjes mentioned moving the garage to the open lot behind the three two family homes next to the proposed building. Rick Maron wasn’t for that.
Mr. Hoven, one of the Hessler leaders said that putting the garage where fair goers couldn’t see it wouldn’t be workable. A case could also be made that if the project is built, any future street fair would be hobbled because the gravel back yard of 1975 Ford Road provides an essential place at the fair, a place to sit down and dine within view of the fair.
Developer Maron pushed the commission members for assurances
Maron, the developer said, “it makes no sense to continue making changes to the plan if (the Landmarks Commission) won’t approve it. He offered to stop working on this proposal then asked, “Give us feedback (about the possibility of approval).”
“It really isn’t a social thing. Are we going to have a vote of everyone in Cleveland,” Maron continued. “Can there be a project or not? Should we go through all the architectural review for nothing?” Three members said that they’d vote for it.
Commission secretary Petit said “Good things have come because of all the neighborhood opposition. It was scaled back and redesigned. And now the councilman is moving ahead on addressing the infrastructure issue on the street.”
The final meeting and vote on this project will take place at Landmarks Commission on May 27, (postponed from May 13), at nine a.m. and is available through this link here.
In a surprise, on May 6th 2021, the Cleveland Planning Commission’s Euclid Corridor design review committee voted to “disapprove” this project which the Landmarks Commission is to take “under advisement” at their Thursday, May 27, 2021 meeting , (postponed from May 13), when making their decision concerning this proposal.
To help the Hessler neighbors make their case against this development click on the link here.
For ongoing discussion of the proposal click on this link here.
For more about the history and construction of wood block Hessler Court click on this link here.