GATES MILLS — More than 50 residents filled the basement of the Gates Mills Community House last week during the monthly council meeting to voice their opposition to a proposed cluster housing development on Chagrin River Road, even though the item was not on the agenda. About 15 residents spoke during the portion of the meeting that is open to the public, and spent more than an hour talking about why the plan should not move forward.

“This isn’t a question of the neighbors, this is a question of the village,” Cairn Lane resident Jerry Bohinc said during the April 9 meeting.

Brent Stewart, a resident of River Oaks Trail and a neighbor who helped write a concerned citizens letter that was sent to all residents several weeks ago, said that he would like the community to have a chance to share its opinion as soon as possible.

Nick Lemmo presented a plan for a cluster development with 16 upscale houses at 781 Chagrin River Road on about 16.5 acres for residents looking to downsize. The plan needs a zoning exception due to the 5-acre per residence rule in the village. Houses would be between 1,800 and 4,000 square feet with starting prices of $400,000.

At the April 2 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Law Director Todd Hunt explained that a public hearing would take place prior to council voting on a zoning amendment.

Mr. Stewart said last week that he does not want to wait for a public hearing.

“All I’m asking for is to have a listening tour and to see what everyone has to say,” he said. “We all have stuff to say and we’re hoping to be heard.”

Councilman Jay “Chip” AuWerter said that council must work to address this proposal while keeping the character of Gates Mills.

“Nobody that I’m aware of would like an ordinance for this to happen everywhere in the village. The question is to try to address bringing a townhouse development without disrupting the ambiance,” he said. “The cart has gotten so far before the horse.”

Councilman Lawrence Frankel said that he received many emails from residents about the housing development and all were against the proposal. He encouraged council and the community to start a dialogue about the proposal during the meeting.

“I keep hearing that people moved here because they like the ambiance and the rural feeling. They’re afraid that a cluster home would lead to cluster homes all over,” Mr. Frankel said. “I think the dialogue can start tonight so start the dialogue.”

Mr. Lemmo owns two parcels along Chagrin River Road that total 16.5 acres, which he purchased in December for $362,291. In between Mr. Lemmo’s properties and the North Cemetery, the village owns an undeveloped 5-acre lot. Although Mr. Lemmo does not own that 5-acre property, it is included in the Payne & Payne drawing for the proposed housing development and is shown as a wooded area.

Woodstock Road resident Les Jacobs asked council members about the village-owned property, and whether it could be used to expand the North Cemetery. Village Engineer Chris Courtney said that the property has a minimal ability to be used for a cemetery because the land is sloped and there could be flooding issues along the stream. According to Mr. Courtney, the village-owned property would be used as a “buffer” between the housing development and the other properties on River Oaks Trail, but the forested land would not be developed.

In an interview on April 10, Mr. Lemmo said that he has no interest in purchasing the 5 acres owned by the village.

Mr. Hunt said at the meeting that he may be able to craft a restrictive ordinance for cluster housing that could only apply to this property and a few other select properties in the village.

Mayor Karen Schneider’s son, Steve, is a real estate agent with Howard Hanna and sold Mr. Lemmo the property, according to records. Residents have questioned whether this is a conflict of interest. Mayor Schneider said that her son made the original sale but would not be involved with the sale of the houses if the development were to proceed.

“If I thought that my son would benefit personally in any way, I would have recused myself from all participation related to discussions,” Mayor Schneider said. The mayor also read a statement from her son, stating that he had no previous relationship with the developer and would not participate in selling homes built on the property.

Chagrin River Road resident Holly Matthews said that village officials could ruin the character of the village with this proposal.

“I didn’t buy 13 acres in Gates Mills to have 16 houses next to it,” she said. “I bought into a lifestyle. You are gutting that and you will ruin it.”

Another resident, who said he has lived in the village for 56 years, said that Gates Mills does not need a developmenth for seniors to move into when they want to downsize from their larger house. He referred back to the commotion at the April 2 planning commission meeting.

“That gentleman who was out of order the other night, he had a good point. We have places for Gates Mills people to go who don’t want to stay here anymore, they’re called Pepper Pike, Beachwood and Moreland Hills.”

Mr. Lemmo, who grew up in Northeast Ohio, currently lives in Los Angeles and plans to develop this land in Gates Mills. “I am not a developer in Los Angeles,” he said in an email to the Times. “I do have a background in construction and property management.”

Council President Pro Tem Mary Reynolds thanked the community members for expressing their opinions, and said that she appreciates the civil dialogue. Mrs. Reynolds reminded the residents that the Planning Commission and Village Council must have a majority vote to pass a piece of legislation, and said that a sale of village property must be approved by council. The next planning commission meeting is on May 7.

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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