PEPPER PIKE — As the rezoning discussion continues for the Beech Brook land, Bryan Stone and Steve Bittence of Axiom Development Group took time to clarify their vision for that area. Axiom is under contract to purchase the 68 acres of land with the intent of building a town center.

Mr. Stone and Mr. Bittence sat down with the Times on Jan. 9 to explain their goals for the land located off of Lander Road including the amount of retail, offices, residential units and green space. Beech Brook, a behavioral health agency, closed its Pepper Pike residential treatment services center in 2016 after 90 years in that location. The private agency plans to relocate its administrative offices, Beech Brook President and CEO Tom Royer has said, with the revenue from the land sale going to its endowment fund.

In order to build a town center, the property must be rezoned from institutional to mixed use by a vote of the city residents. Mayor Richard Bain said that the vote will come no earlier than the November 2020 ballot.

“As a Pepper Pike resident myself, I’m really excited about this opportunity,” Mr. Stone said. “We have the chance to build a new scenic, walkable neighborhood that fits in with the character of Pepper Pike and meets the needs of residents now and future residents.”

Axiom is holding an open house at Beech Brook, 3737 Lander Road, on Jan. 25 from 3:30-5 p.m. to answer questions from residents about the proposed overlay district ordinance. Mr. Royer is also expected to attend to answer questions.

Retail

The developers emphasized that the narrative about Beech Brook rezoning has been flipped, and some people believe that they want to build a retail center and compare this property to Pinecrest, the new mixed-use district at Harvard Road and Interstate 271 in Orange Village. They explained that is not the case, rather, the town center at Beech Brook would include housing, green space and a limited amount of retail with an emphasis on communal spaces and walkability.

“We’re not Pinecrest,”

Mr. Bittence said. “Pinecrest is an enormous amount of acres and every inch of it is filled with high-intensity development. What we’re talking about is of the 68 acres at the current Beech Brook property, only 16 of those acres would be available for that kind of commercial development.”

The 16 acres available for commercial development includes the space for retail shops, office space, apartments, sidewalks and parking lots, he added. Mr. Bittence explained that the amount of retail at the proposed town center is one-tenth the size of Pinecrest. He said that the town center could have approximately 40,000 square feet of retail space while Pinecrest has 400,000 square feet of retail space.

Mr. Stone described the retail as “neighborhood-style amenity retail,” meaning that the shops would serve the people living and working at the town center because it is in walking distance. He said that he does not expect large, national tenants and would seek out businesses like a coffee shop, a yoga studio and a few restaurants.

“It’s not going to be big box, and it’s not going to be drive-thrus,” Mr. Stone said.

If the residents do vote to rezone the property, Axiom must submit a development plan for approval by the city. Mr. Stone and Mr. Bittence said that they are not anticipating a need for variances after the initial development plan is approved. In Ohio, it is illegal to grant a variance for a plan that is more economically beneficial to the developer, Mr. Bittence said. Variances are granted to change the setbacks on a property, for example, not the use of the building or land.

Housing

Mr. Bittence said that Axiom’s market studies show three main groups of people who would be attracted to the proposed housing at the town center. He said there is a huge demand for housing for people above the age of 55, who would like to stay in the city but downsize to a smaller home. More than half of the residents of Pepper Pike are above the age of 55, Mr. Bittence said. The housing at the town center would include options different from traditional housing in the city, such as houses with a first floor bedroom and apartments with indoor parking.

He said that there is also demand for traditional single family housing in a walkable neighborhood. Buyers of these homes in the age 35-45 range could walk to the businesses at the town center, Mr. Bittence said. Many of these buyers may have grown up in the Orange City School District and are looking to upgrade from a smaller “starter home.” Also, the town center apartments would attract recent college graduates, especially those who work along the Interstate 271 corridor, he said.

According to the mixed-use overlay district ordinance, the density of housing shall not exceed five dwelling units per gross acre, excluding riparian setback areas. Pepper Pike’s zoning code has a 1 acre per residence regulation, but various developments have homes that are closer together, including Sterling Lakes along Brainard Road.

“The majority of Pepper Pike is completely unaffected by this,” Mr. Stone said. “Lander Circle is a hub of activity already. That’s why we think it seamlessly fits in with the character of the city.”

Green space

Residents have stated that Beech Brook is an undeveloped property and building a town center would remove a significant portion of Pepper Pike’s tree canopy. Mr. Bittence pointed out that the south half of the property currently has a number of buildings that the agency used to house and care for the former Beech Brook clients. He said that the north half used to be a farm and was cleared of trees until about 45 years ago.

“The change is limited to 16 acres,” Mr. Stone said. “Two-thirds of it is going to be the residential neighborhood that will be on the existing Beech Brook campus and the Willey Creek corridor which will be left as is. It’s really just a limited amount of space that’s being altered.”

Mr. Stone said that the residents’ concerns about the tree canopy are valid, but development is not the main culprit. The cause of Pepper Pike’s tree canopy loss, he said, is mainly from the emerald ash borer, an insect that feeds on and ultimately damages ash trees. Two studies confirmed that there were no endangered species or historic or cultural resources on the property, according to Mr. Bittence.

The city has scheduled a public hearing for Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 28000 Shaker Blvd., for residents to comment on the rezoning proposal.

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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