GATES MILLS — Nearly 60 residents filled council chambers and overflowed into the lobby at Gates Mills Village Hall last week to hear from Mayor Karen Schneider on a proposed cluster home development that would need a significant change in the zoning code’s residential land requirement.
Mayor Schneider presented a history of the property but faced significant opposition from angry residents during the April 2 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
Last August, Rick Lemmo presented a plan for a cluster development with 20 houses at 781 Chagrin River Road, between Mayfield Road and Wilson Mills Road. Mr. Lemmo said that the goal of the development would be to provide high-end cluster housing for members of the community who are looking to downsize, according to village officials.
Rick Lemmo’s son, Nick, would develop this property and purchased 20 acres on Chagrin River Road for $362,291 in December of 2018. Mayor Schneider’s son, Steve Schneider with Howard Hanna, administered the sale, according to Howard Hanna reports. The property currently is a wooded area and about 17 acres would be used for the development.
Nick Lemmo again appeared before village officials in March of 2019 for a rezoning request, and amended his plan to 16 houses instead of 20. Village officials said that various neighbors who own properties adjacent to the proposed housing development shared questions and concerns about the plan, including additional noise and traffic as well as amending the village zoning code.
Nick Lemmo explained that he has reduced the number of houses in the development by 20 percent, doubled the setback limit from the property line and increased the landscape buffer between the development and other properties.
“We have had very few direct concerns, but with those received we have made every effort to incorporate necessary layout amendments to make sure the issues raised to us have been accommodated,” he said.
Currently, Gates Mills requires a minimum of 5 acres per residence, and 16 houses on 17 acres in the proposed development does not meet that rule. Under the current zoning code, 80 acres would be needed for 16 houses.
Nick Lemmo explained that with the proposed development, there would be approximately 1 acre per residence but noted that the houses are clustered together to preserve valuable green space.
Eight neighbors came together to write a letter and mailed it to every resident of Gates Mills prior to the April 2 commission meeting to inform the village of the proposed plan and rezoning request and encourage them to come to the meeting.
Mayor Schneider stood in the threshold of the council chambers during her presentation to speak out toward the crowd, as many people who came for the meeting said they could not hear the discussion. She presented a history of that property on Chagrin River Road dating as far back as 1992 to show the residents that a proposal for cluster housing is not new. She explained that many developers have expressed interest in the property over the last 25 years and residents have written letters to the administration in the past in support of senior housing.
“You need to know the history to make educated decisions,” Mayor Schneider said.
One resident interrupted the mayor saying he did not want to hear the history of the property but rather an update of the plan.
Another man burst into the council chambers from the hallway and told commission members that the village tried cluster housing three times in the past, adding that it “didn’t work then and won’t work now” before leaving the room as the crowd applauded.
In the letter sent to residents, the neighbors wrote that they anticipated that a new zoning district would be proposed and voted on at the April 2 meeting. The letter also said “Now the Gates Mills zoning code is being changed with almost no community input.”
Law Director Todd Hunt explained that to accommodate the current housing proposal, the village would need a zoning text amendment to permit cluster housing in the single family residential district, which is different from rezoning that area. There currently is no ordinance to amend the zoning code, he said, therefore nothing would be introduced or voted on. He also explained that amending the zoning code is not a small change and requires a lengthy process.
To adopt a zoning amendment, Mr. Hunt said, council must introduce a proposed ordinance and refer it to the planning commission for review. Then the recommendation from the planning commission returns to council for consideration. After that, the village must give public notice of a public hearing at least 30 days prior to a public hearing where residents and property owners can share their opinions. Council then votes on the amendment after the public hearing, either on the same day or at a later meeting, Mr. Hunt said.
“This is inappropriate and uncivil for citizens to jump in,” Mr. Hunt said, citing the residents’ behavior toward Mayor Schneider and Councilwoman Nancy Sogg, chairwoman of the planning commission.
Village officials informed the audience that this meeting was open to the public but there was not a section for public comment, and advised that they should listen to the mayor’s presentation. At that point, several members of the audience left.
Mr. Hunt explained that a housing development could be introduced while allowing the village to keep its spacious residential district.
“The emphasis is to limit them but provide for them in the community,” he said. “It’s possible with planning principles.”
Nick Lemmo said that this would be a senior living community that uses advanced technology and security while promoting accessibility and a continued independent lifestyle.
The proposed development plan includes courtyard homes, which would be 1,800 to 2,200 square feet, and manor homes, which would be 2,200 to 4,000 square feet, according to Nick Lemmo.
“Universal design features will be incorporated such as zero threshold clearances into showers, wider toilet room areas, wider hallways and grab bars if elected can be installed,” he added. “Residential elevators will be available as well as infrastructure for future installation if not chosen at time of build.”
The price of the homes will start at $400,000, Nick Lemmo said.
Resident Jerry Bohinc said that the size of the crowd showed that the community members have questions and concerns.
“[The village] should have done a better job of explaining their thinking,” he said. “This was evidence of the significant interest.”
In an interview on April 3, Mayor Schneider said that if the residents are against the project, then council will not move forward with it.
“We have the 5-acre zoning and I don’t want to jeopardize that,” she said. “If we can’t do it without jeopardizing our 5-acre zoning, it’s going to be a dead issue as far as I’m concerned.”
Gordon Kinder, a trustee for one of the properties near the proposed housing development, said that he has two main concerns. He explained that it is unfair to the immediate neighbors to change the zoning in one area from 5-acre single family to cluster housing. Mr. Kinder also said that the development would change the character of the village, where residents enjoy the large lots and the quiet neighborhood.
“They’re taking nice, quiet space from people and giving it to the developer who makes a profit from it, and that bothers me,” Mr. Kinder said.
He also said that neighbors are not opposed to senior housing, but do want to see a thoughtful process and public discussion regarding such a decision.
“By having this project in the Village, and not a surrounding city, this will allow for individuals who may be lifelong residents to stay in their community while accommodating for their changing lifestyle needs,” Nick Lemmo said.
Council did meet in regular session this week on Tuesday.