PEPPER PIKE — Residents have crowded into many meetings at City Hall over the last year to question the proposed town center at the Beech Brook property, with traffic as one of their biggest concerns. Bryan Stone and Steve Bittence of Axiom Development Group have said that the tax revenue from a town center would give the city a new financial tool to solve the traffic issues at Lander Circle.

Axiom is under contract to purchase 68 acres at 3737 Lander Road owned by Beech Brook. The developers have proposed a town center, which would include a mix of retail, offices, residential and green space. In order to build a town center, the residents of Pepper Pike would have to vote to rezone the property from institutional to mixed use, and the city would have to approve a development plan.

In 2016, Beech Brook, a behavioral health agency, closed its residential treatment services in the city after 90 years at that location. According to the agency’s CEO and President Tom Royer, Beech Brook plans to move its administrative offices to a new headquarters with revenue from the property sale going into the agency’s endowment fund.

“Long before we ever came on the scene at the start of this whole process, the city was proposing a cut-through road on the Beech Brook property,” Mr. Stone said.

Designing a traffic solution

Cars are often backed up at the stop signs on Lander and Chagrin at the traffic circle, with sometimes 15 cars waiting on every street at the peak of rush hour. Residents have said that a town center will attract more cars to that traffic circle due to the new employees, residents and visitors to the shops and restaurants.

Mr. Bittence said that Lander Circle received an F rating for its level of service by the Ohio Department of Transportation. Although Axiom’s proposed project would add cars to the traffic circle, he said that it also brings in tax revenue for the city to fix the traffic problem.

“When you look at the project we’re proposing, it does add cars, but what it also adds is new tax revenue that could be used to help fix the existing problem,” he said.

Mr. Stone said that the most recent traffic study, which was completed in December, concluded that the roundabout needs to be more free-flowing with fewer entrances and exits. The traffic study also showed a new road across the Beech Brook property from Lander Road to Chagrin Boulevard, which would alleviate the traffic on the circle.

Although Axiom’s town center proposal could be helpful in financing changes to the traffic circle, Mr. Bittence said that it is not Axiom’s role to redesign Lander Circle. He said that it is a “community issue” and Pepper Pike should not let Axiom control it. Although Axiom is willing to participate in the redesign of the circle and its project could help finance it, it is not Axiom’s decision to make, Mr. Bittence explained.

Funding through TIF

According to Mr. Bittence, if Beech Brook sells its property to a nonprofit entity, the city would have to finance building a new road from Chagrin to Lander itself or wait for grant funds through ODOT or the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency. If Beech Brook is sold to a for-profit entity like Axiom, then the city does not have to shoulder the financial burden.

“One of the things we’ve said all along is that we think it’s important to have a for-profit piece to add new revenue to the schools,” Mr. Bittence said. “Everybody knows in Ohio that schools are under continual funding crunches.”

Mr. Stone and Mr. Bittence mentioned the possibility of tax increment financing for the Beech Brook property. A TIF is an economic development tool used to redirect new property taxes related to a development project.

Several parcels on Harvard Road across from Pinecrest, Orange Village’s new mixed use district, use a TIF. For those parcels, Cuyahoga County’s share of the taxes, about 28 percent, is redirected to the village for public infrastructure improvements.

Other costs

Mr. Stone emphasized that there is not any sort of agreement between Axiom and the city. He said that Axiom is not asking for any cash subsidy from Pepper Pike for this project.

There are other incremental costs, however, that come with this kind of project. Mr. Bittence said that as new families move into the residences, more kids may attend the Orange City School District.

“We evaluated it in different versions but in all of those versions, it generates enough new property tax revenue to the schools, even if you use a portion of it for the TIF,” Mr. Bittence said.

The proposed town center would be served by the Pepper Pike police and fire departments, Mr. Bittence said, but he did not expect to see significant additional costs to the city. For example, he did not expect that the police department would have to hire any more patrol officers.

Most importantly, Mr. Stone said that the residents need to read the overlay district ordinance, which is available under the Planning and Zoning Commission tab on Residents can also visit, a website designed by Axiom, to learn more about the developers and their proposal.

Axiom is holding an open house at Beech Brook on Jan. 25 from 3:30-5 p.m. for residents to ask questions about the rezoning and potential town center. Mr. Royer of Beech Brook will also be present to answer questions about the agency’s future.

There is a public hearing on Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Pepper Pike Learning Center, 32000 Chagrin Blvd. for residents to comment on the rezoning issue.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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