Developers offer smaller proposal to neighbors’ rejection
BREAKING NEWS: Councilman Blaine Griffin to formally announce funds to repair Hessler Road
This was told recently by councilman Griffin to Hessler neighbors. “We are going to be making repairs soon to this historical brick street.“
By Lee Batdorff — Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Hessler’s balance threatened; 1979 anti-gentrification strategic plan ignored; A gentrified tenant’s revenge?; Cleveland Planning Commission sets next stage; 2014 Hessler green infrastructure project dropped by Mayor Jackson administration; Hessler’s water problem; Renovation doesn’t meet historic standards; Of rooming houses and ‘party animals’; What Cleveland homeowners don’t get; Illegal parking destroys curb; Hessler Court wood blocks deteriorating; The heroine of Hessler; Councilman and neighbors wish for more home owners
THINGS BECAME HEATED ON A COLD PORCH* at 1975 Ford Drive in University Circle, Cleveland Ohio during a 5 p.m. Thursday March 18th meeting lead by Hessler Road owner-occupiers Laura Cyrocki and Charles Hoven with Rick Maron and Russell Berusch, developers of the Hessler Ford proposal, including University Circle Incorporated planning director Elise Yablowsky, plus the architects for the project, Daniel Sirk and his wife Ewa, and arriving late, Ward 6 councilman Blaine Giffin. (*36 F degrees with wind and rain.)
This was the first in-person meeting of all parties since the Ford Hessler proposal was put forth during a February 10th Zoom meeting held by University Circle Incorporated. Link to YouTube of Feb. 10 Zoom meeting.
This proposal for an apartment building in the gravel back yard of 1975 Ford Drive where UCI let tenants park their autos has been for decades opened up for the annual Hessler Street Fair. Due to rising costs the fair went into hiatus after the 2019 festival for the second time in its half-century existence.
In response to several requests to change this proposal that were put forth by some Hessler property owners at a Zoom meeting sponsored by the Hessler owner-occupiers—on March 15—developer Mr. Maron said, “I’ll have the architects work over-time to produce a new proposal to answer your concerns by this Thursday.” Link to YouTube of Hessler March 15 Zoom meeting.
Three days later, on Thursday March 18th, on the porch of 1975 Ford Dr., each architect held a printed 8-1/2” by 11” sheet showing the redesign for the group to see.
Hessler’s fine balance threatened
“For years, long term home owners, tenants and students have coexisted in a fine balance to create a community that stays lovely and hosts the best annual party ever, the Hessler Street Fair,” said Ms. Cyrocki.
“It’s truly a fine balance, which little by little, with the presence of encroaching development, has shifted toward a harsher, louder, dirtier and less peaceful place. It’s the very loss of this balance which violates Hessler’s Landmark status.”
Proposal reduced to one-half the scale of original version
This revision is to build 12 micro-suite apartments, (each 465 square foot apartments said to be renting for approximately $1600 a month), and down from the 23 suites originally proposed; this plan has three floors instead of four; and it has all brick facade on the front; plus an additional eight foot margin on the northeast side of the building, added in response to a request from Alpha Apartment Management, the owner-landlord of the duplex home next door. This is planned to be an additional driveway to Hessler Rd., that was not in the original proposal.
Most Hessler home owners however did not make any requests for moderating the design at the March 15th Zoom meeting. They don’t want this building at all.
“After trees were removed behind Hessler properties by Uptown II, and the project was completed, basements of houses flooded with two feet of water,” said Patrick Holland. Mr. Holland, who owns a row house, and has long represented the Hessler Neighborhood Association to UCI and is a member of the Cleveland Planning Commission’s Euclid Corridor Design Review Committee.
“We still want it as a yard,” said Charles Hoven, an owner-occupier, at the porch meeting, and several other Hessler neighbors were outspoken against the new plan.
Eric Ambro, who has lived on Hessler for over 50 years, summed up the situation: “You’ve responded with substantial changes to your plan, that is clear. The case is that quite a few people on Hessler want nothing here.”
Hessler neighbors and University Circle Incorporated produced a ‘anti gentrification plan’ plan for Hessler in 1979
“You’re supposed to come to us first when making a plan for Hessler,” said Hoven to Yabowsky at the March 18th meeting. “We have a plan that predates yours.”
He was referring to a 1979 report made by the then Hessler Road Association, University Circle Inc., Cleveland Planning Commission and the Cleveland Landmarks Commission.
On page eight of the Hessler Road Area Planning Committee Final Report of December 19, 1979 states this recommendation:
“Any new construction, sale program, or development should be part of an overall University Circle housing strategy that has as its goal an economically integrated community. That strategy should include…Priority to existing residents for the opportunity to purchase their unit, if it becomes available, by individual purchase, condominium or cooperative, specifically Hessler Road.”
(More on this report will be in a later installment of this series: The State of Hessler.)
On March 3rd this year UCI sold 1975 and 1981 Ford Drive to Russell Berusch. The 1979 report, worked out by UCI and the neighbors and CWRU and the city, apparently holds no currency with UCI today. Tenants were not notified of the Hessler Ford proposal before it was worked up and the UCI properties were sold less than a month later, without giving the tenants any “priority.”
At the March 11th Zoom meeting held by the Hessler owner-occupiers, Mr. Ronayne was asked about the 1979 report. He said, “There have been a lot of planning proposals made since then.”
Through the UCI planning department, Chris Ronayne was requested to clarify this statement. No response was received.
UCI President Chris Ronayne was about 11 years old living in Chicago Ill. in 1979 when this long range planning document was produced.
Later Hoven said, “The only plan since 1979 where Hessler residents were included that I know of was the 2014 Hessler Green Infrastructure proposal (that was) signed by city planning director Freddie Collier, (and) UCI chief executive officer Chris Roynane—with a much different plan for the backyard of 1975 Ford Drive.”
BACK ON THE COLD PORCH, the developers were taken aback by the outburst of owner-occupiers to the reduced scale plan.
Mr. Berusch said: “This response is undignified…Didn’t we make all the changes as requested?…You’re not going to change the game now!”
An encounter with a soon to be vacating tenant
At some point during the meeting a man opened the front door of 1975 Ford, looked out at the 20 some people on his porch, and disrupted the gathering, asking, “Can I help you?”
This tenant apparently was not given prior notice that a crowd of people would be on his front porch at the invitation of this new landlord, Russell Berusch.
I watched Berusch immediately brake from the meeting and go into the lobby with the tenant for a short time. The meeting continued.
Berusch had purchased the property from UCI just days before and with that purchase it was confirmed to all the long time tenants of 1975 and 1981 Ford Drive that they must vacate their apartments by May 1st allowing for renovation and higher rents.
Along with apparently not being given prior notice from the landlord inviting a crowd to his front porch—this tenant is being “gentrified” out of his rental home.
Cleveland Planning Commission sets next stage
Eventually the rain and wind letup and the meeting moved down the porch stairs and visited the back of the proposed building site, close to the Uptown II parking garage.
The revised version of this proposal—offered that day—avoids a problem brought up by Kim Scott, the CPC chief city planner who administrated the March 4th Zoom meeting concerning this proposal. Link to YouTube of March 4th Zoom meeting.
She’d determined through a search of city records that the Uptown II developers had not fulfilled a pledge written in 2012 to provide a landscape plan document to the CPC for this property. “Don’t come back without addressing this issue,” she said at the March 4th Euclid Corridor Design Review Committee Zoom meeting.
The Hessler micro-apartment building proposal is scheduled to return to a CPC Zoom meeting with Ms. Scott at eight a.m. Thursday April 15th, 2021.
Link to Cleveland Planning Commission meeting schedules and agendas. Look closely for “YouTube Live Stream” link near center bottom if you want to watch live. A recording of the meeting is available after the meeting.
This downsizing of the micro-unit building may allow for a crucial change in the eyes of the CPC. Maron’s first plan utilized a “landlocked” parcel, owned by his sons, (Ari and Jori Maron), owners of Uptown II, for parking.
Rick Maron, who has retired from MRN Ltd, (owned by his sons), offered an initial plan calling for 21 parking slots, and a prospective line of an additional six rental electric vehicles parked end-to-end like quarter shopping carts at Aldi’s, across this “landlocked” parcel.
The new reduced plan meets current parking requirements with 11 parking spaces, a bicycle parking rack, and no line of rental electric cars. Because the new plan incorporates only a small portion of this landlocked parcel, (to park five autos), Maron and Berusch may be off the hook for Uptown IIs error in not supplying a written landscaping plan for this property to the City back in 2014.
Maron’s sons apparently are responsible to address this lapse of honoring an agreement with the City of Cleveland concerning a landscape plan. Will a landscaping plan come from Ari and Jori Maron meet Scott’s request? At this writing an answer awaits with the April 15th CPC Zoom meeting.
Link to Cleveland Planning Commission schedule and agendas.
(More on this landlocked property is in a later installment of this series: The State of Hessler.)
The 2014 Hessler Green Infrastructure Project involving UCI and the sewer district was not funded by the City of Cleveland
Organized by UCI planning director Elise Yablonsky, the Cleveland Planning Commission, Hessler Neighborhood Association, and UCI partnered to host a design charrette workshop in 2014 to plan for improvements to the Hessler streetscape and make a grant application to the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District Green Infrastructure Grants program.
The project was an innovative “green” approach to rebuild the brick paver Hessler Road “better” with new “green” water drainage techniques. The total estimated cost was almost $2 million and the City of Cleveland balked at providing its funding share of about $600,000.
According to Yablonsky, “The Mayor’s Office of Capital Projects also raised concerns about the installation of green infrastructure within the public right-of-way.”
That’s a cop-out to some Hessler home owners. They say the project didn’t receive the City of Cleveland’s backing was because Mayor Frank Jackson turned the City’s attention to the then upcoming 2016 Republican National Convention.
This proposal involved a reconditioning of the gravel backyard of the 1975 Ford Drive parcel, along Hessler Rd. This is an area used during Hessler Street Fairs.
This ecologically advance “streetscape” proposal was to “incorporate educational programming” showing off permeable pavers to replace the gravel and exhibited to the annual street fair crowds—it would have been a demonstration of the good that permeable pavers and proper underground water channeling can do for a water challenged place such as Hessler Road—in this back half of 1975 Ford Drive parcel.
The troubled hydrology of Hessler Road
The the group then moved through the gravel lot onto Hessler Road. Maron was first to drop away, and by the time we finished traversing the site of the proposed building, Berusch was gone too.
At this point the party consisted of Councilman Blaine Griffin, several Hessler owner-occupiers, a renter, UCI planner Yablonsky, two representatives of Alpha Apartments, and the architects.
It rained all day before Councilman Griffin surveyed the hill-and-vale puddles of brown water pooled between rolling brick pavers. He declared them “sinkholes.”
He said, “the City doesn’t have a brick streets program,” and “I’m researching where funds to repair this can be found.”
The revenge of a gentrified tenant?
This group had walked down the street almost to Hessler Ct. when a University Circle Police Department officer walked up and asked why we were there. Apparently an individual living at 1975 Ford Drive called the UCPD about the crowd on their porch and wandering the neighborhood.
A second officer joined the group. I told the officers, “There is someone here from UCI,” and lead them to UCI planner Yablowsky. She provided an explanation and they left.
Cyrocki is looking for good long term residents like the one who called the police on the front porch crowd. “The displacement of good tenants as a result of rent hikes on Ford Drive,” she said, “(has been instituted by University Circle Incorporate), our local Community Service Organization (which) was a good landlord but sold out on their Ford Drive tenants and the Hessler Community, in classic UCI fashion. Same as it ever was!”
New renovation is non-appropriate for Historic District standards
While Berusch wasn’t there, the talk turned to his renovation of the row houses at 11319-11327 Hessler Rd. The five row houses were converted into 30 rooms and rented individually, with five sets of shared kitchens and bathrooms.
“Russell Berusch essentially runs his building as an unsupervised undergraduate dorm,” said owner-occupier Hoven.
While the quality of the renovation of the inside has received much praise, the renters are mostly undergraduate students and noise complaints draw visits by the UCPD at the behest of complaining home owners.
Often there is a car parked illegally at the corner, on Hessler Court at Hessler Road, forcing sanitation and moving trucks to drive over the curb on the opposite side of Hessler Court, and damaging it into rubble.
More annoying for some owner-occupiers is Berusch’s apparent lack of attentiveness to Hessler Road’s status as the first Historic District in the City of Cleveland, a status which legally dictates that properties are maintained in a condition similar to the original.
Hoven said, “Considering what’s been done, Berusch couldn’t have filed a Certificate of Appropriateness with the Cleveland Landmarks Commission before pulling a building permit.”
Among the non-appropriate aspects of this renovation is the more-or-less well-paved cement sidewalk installed by Berusch along Hessler Rd., (and having removed the original non-slip stone sidewalk slabs).
The little front yards are now filled with rounded gravel, offering party standees easy treading. Before the renovation the yards were grass with small trees in the middle of each yard between five walks to row house front porches. These are now made of well-laid historically appropriate small slabs of non-slip slate.
When asked earlier, Berusch said he didn’t apply for historic district tax incentive for these five row houses turned into rooming houses.
“If this pattern continues with rehabbed buildings (on Hessler Road) and the (construction of a) proposed new building in the backyard of 1975 Ford, the character and feel of Hessler Road will be altered significantly,” Hoven said.
Of rooming houses and ‘party animals’
“Civilians” is what developer Rick Maron calls the long term owner-occupiers and tenants of Hessler. Civilians often suffer in war, so let’s discuss those inflicting the noise on the civilians.
‘Short term’ is defined here by the two-year period that undergraduate Case Western Reserve University students who live “off campus” (outside the university dormitories) live on Hessler Rd. Let’s call those of this group who like to party hardy on Hessler—the “party animals”.
Scattered among the rooms of the party animals are the rooms and apartments of undergraduate, graduate, and post-doc students who are labeled here as “scholars.” The lines are drawn. There is a natural alliance between the scholars and the civilians against the party animals.
“Berusch has proven to be a bad manager and his tenants live…wreaking havoc with excessively loud and obnoxious partying,” said Laura Cyrocki.
The city council and mayor of University Heights Ohio, (home of John Carroll University), instituted an ordinance years ago that set levels of civil sanction on a landlord for a “noisy” property. This is determined by the number of noise calls about an address made to the police over a one year. Link to story about this ordinance.
In University Heights: The first call to the police is only recorded in police records; The second call compels the police to send a written notice to the landlord declaring the property a nuisance; The third noise incident in one calendar year and the landlord is fined $250. A forth and consecutive infractions bring a $500 fine each upon a landlord.
What home owners get in suburbia—and not in Cleveland
If this ordinance were in the City of Cleveland statutes, it would mean that landlord Berusch, (owner of 11319-11327 Hessler Rd.), would be fined of $750 for one Red level (4) infraction at 11327 Hessler and fined $250 for one Orange level (3) of infraction at 11319 Hessler. He would be looking at $1,000 in fines.
The remaining three of the addresses in his row houses are one Yellow, (1 or 2 annual noise complaints), and two Green designations, (no noise complaints)–these would not be subjugated to a fine.
Across Hessler Rd., on the southeast side of the dead end of Hessler Rd.—one address stands out for noise. The six suite apartment building at 11420 Hessler, managed by Alpha Apartments, (it is unknown if these are rented by the room). It has incurred four calls for noise in 2020, giving it a (4) Red rank for noise.
The “Swiss Chalet”, also owned by Alpha Apartments at the corner of Hessler Rd. and Ct.—and is rented out by the room according to a $500 a month for room sign leaning against this building. This level of noise infraction, (3) Orange—if it occurred in University Heights, would bring a $250 fine. Added to the $750 fine for Alpha Apartments at 11420 Hessler, Alpha Apts fines would total $1,000, just as Berusch would be fined for 11319 and 11327 Hessler Rd.
If this University Heights ordinance was enacted in Cleveland the total take in fines by the City of Cleveland would be $2,000. As it is, this potential income has been lost to the city. Worse yet, there is no legal sanction on the landlords that might curtail this noise.
UCPD chief Jim Repicky seemed amused about University Heights instituting such fines. The civil right of citizens not to be disturbed by noise—in the face of the broad spectrum of urban crime that the UCPD and the Cleveland Police Department encounter—seemed trivial to him. “If it was all students on Hessler we’d get fewer noise complaints.”
Actually, the UCPD is already doing crucial work documenting the disruptive noise of the party animals. It only takes the City of Cleveland council and the mayor to institute such a law as has been done in University Heights, and the “civilians” and “scholars” may not be disrupted so often by noise. And Hessler would become more appealing to civilians and scholars which are so necessary in this world.
Parking scofflaws force trucks to damage curb
A DIRECT CONNECTION: Flaunting parking laws leads to the destruction of a curb on Hessler Court—this is by sanitation and other big trucks maneuvering around illegally parked cars. Is a tow-away zone in order here?
Historic wood block Hessler Court deteriorating
Along with these lapses in maintaining historic district standards is the deteriorated condition of the tender wood blocks of Hessler Court, (which runs between Hessler Road and Bellflower Road). According to the National Registry of Places, this is a special place.
Apparently the wood blocks were damaged by construction trucks that pulled in and out of the drive behind Berusch’s row houses, and in and out of the drive across the Court as they all turn onto Hessler Court. The damage continues all along the parking lane of Hessler Ct. where drivers turn their tires to parallel park. And there are individual wood blocks damaged here and there among solid blocks.
The “Hessler Court Wood Block Pavement” was put on the National Registry of Places on March 3rd 1975 while Cleveland’s Landmarks Commission designated the Hessler Rd. and Court a Historic District on November 1st 1975. Both were the first of their kind in Cleveland.
It is interesting to note that in the 2014 Hessler Green Infrastructure Project proposal, on page 4, Section 2- Project Summary, paragraph 3, it states: “Hessler Court, the city’s only wood-paved street, is currently in good condition.”
The last time Hessler Court was rebuilt with wood blocks is likely over 50 years ago. In the seven years between 2014 and 2021, what happened that so many wood blocks have now deteriorated?
The answer may lay in the diligent care taken for many years of Hessler Court by owner-occupier and Hessler landlord, the late Pitter (Donna) Pratt.
Not only did she keep good care of her two buildings on Hessler Rd. she was the guardian of Hessler Court during winters. When a plow-and-salt truck rumbled down Hessler Road she ran out and stopped the driver and implored that he not salt Hessler Court.
Unfortunately, Ms. Pratt passed away in 2019, (and she was incapacitated for a few years before). No one has since taken up imploring plow-and-salt truck drivers to save Hessler Court from salt.
Pitter Pratt, heroine of Hessler
The late Pitter Pratt lead a good life on Hessler Road. She was an owner-occupier living in a Hessler Road rowhouse and landlord of about a dozen apartments in two brick three-story apartment buildings along the dead end of Hessler Road next to where the main stage of the annual Hessler Street Fair sets up.
In the course of her business Pitter was a leading proponent of urbanest Jane Jacob’s theory of “eyes on the street.”
Pitter danced on the street during the annual fair, maintain her office in one of the suites near where she danced—and lived in a rowhouse with her husband Patrick Holland, a few doors away. Her vigilance concerning the condition of the Hessler neighborhood must be noted:
PITTER’S FIRST FEAT OF PRESERVATION:
Once, a University Circle Inc. crew came by to demolish and remove a two-bay garage in the backyard of the 1975 Ford Drive parcel. This garage is the pop-up home for two days during the annual Hessler Street Fair—The Hessler Hall of Fame and Museum. While this gravel-covered back yard appears prosaic—the garage is found on a map from the 1920s, portraying this garage has historic.
Pitter, who lived four doors away, ran out and accosted the demolition crew who came to take down the garage—bringing in the University Circle Police—demanding the demolition be stopped on the grounds that this innocuous-looking, two-bay garage, is an historic structure—requiring special attention.
And it worked! UCI acquiesced and not only did they not destroy the old garage, they repaired it! For decades it served as incidental storage for UCI maintenance and for two days annually as the pop up Hessler Hall of Fame and Museum during the Hessler Street Fair. (The Hessler Street Fair has been on hiatus since the 2019 fair.)
PITTER’S SECOND FEAT of neighborhood preservation involved her listening for the city snow plow salt spreader truck rumbling down Hessler Rd. past her home. At this sound she’d run into the street and accosted the plow salt truck driver imploring him to not salt wood block Hessler Court.
PITTER’S THIRD FEAT of neighborhood preservation involved her chasing two young men, apparently from a nearby fraternity, and retrieving a Hessler Street Fair banner that they had removed from a utility pole.
PITTER’S TOP FEAT OF NEIGHBORHOOD PRESERVATION: She maintained her apartments in top shape. To support my freelance journalism career I was an independent house cleaner. The late Cindy MacKay, (a member of the Hessler Housing Co-op), who cleaned homes to support her folk musician career—hired me on to help spiff and polish apartments for incoming graduate students and post docs—to the standards of Pitter.
IT APPEARS THAT this “National Historical Place” of Hessler Court needs ongoing attention of care-giving owner-occupiers who run out and accost plow salt truck drivers. Hopefully Hessler Court will be rebuilt as a long lasting wood block road again and hopefully dedicated Hessler residents undertake the everlasting effort to maintain it.
“I feel strongly that anybody who weighs in on this project should be required to visit the site and see the historic district,” said Cyrocki who moved here from Jackson Michigan in the late 1990s. “It’s easy to make decisions from an office chair at a computer screen, but the real work is to see it in context.”
Councilman and neighbors wish for more home owner-occupiers in Cleveland
It may be that the most tender topic in Cleveland is owner-occupied homes. The residential boom in downtown Cleveland, University Circle and other city neighborhoods have few owner-occupiers. While a recent measure to mitigate this has been announced, whatever this remedy, it is not likely to adequately address the need.
The folks who stayed to the last of this meeting were three Hessler owner-occupiers, one renter, myself, and Councilman Griffin. Together, on the sidewalk outside two row house owned by the Hessler Housing Co-op, they lamented that Cleveland does not have more home owning, owner-occupiers.
(More about the Hessler Housing Co-op is in a later installment of this series: The State of Hessler.)
Councilman Griffin earlier told the group, “I am a councilman, not a czar.” With an apparent securing of funds to repair Hessler’s wayward brick road, Griffin appears to be a resourceful elected official, not a czar.
To help the Hessler neighbors make their case against this development click on this link.
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.