PEPPER PIKE — As Pepper Pike City Council continues to field comments from residents about rezoning the Beech Brook property for a mixed-use district, council members said last week that the questions are “premature.” Residents have questioned potential problems with rezoning the 68-acre property for a town center, such as increased traffic and crime and a loss of the city’s well-known natural beauty.

Axiom Development Group is under contract to purchase the Beech Brook property, which sits near Lander Circle. Beech Brook closed its residential treatment services in 2016 and plans to move its administrative offices to a new location. If council votes to put the rezoning on the ballot, then the residents of Pepper Pike will have the final say on whether that land will be rezoned. Mayor Richard Bain said that the earliest that this could appear on the ballot is November of this year.

“This really hasn’t come in front of council yet. We have not even had a chance to address this in the council chambers, so the questions you are asking are all premature,” Councilman Bob Freed said at the Jan. 15 meeting. “This will be highly investigated, we will do our due diligence, but it hasn’t even come to council yet.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission already reviewed the proposed overlay district ordinance and voted unanimously to recommend it to council for further review. There is a public hearing on Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Pepper Pike Learning Center, 32000 Chagrin Blvd. and an open house at Beech Brook, 3737 Lander Road, this Saturday from 3:30-5 p.m. for Axiom representatives to answer questions about their proposal.

Lander Road resident Burt Randell said that he understood that some of the residents’ questions may be premature and he knew that Beech Brook was not on the agenda for that meeting. He, however, still shared his thoughts with council regarding the town center.

“I think we have enough development here already but I just want to say this: Every person that I’ve spoken to does not like the idea,” he said. “It’s the most unpopular idea since Art Modell decided to move the [Cleveland] Browns to Baltimore, [Maryland].” The audience applauded.

Summit Lane resident Karen Tuschman asked if council had considered other options for the property, such as preservation. Councilman Tony Gentile, who retired from working as the deputy finance director in Hunting Valley, said that he is familiar with conservation efforts. He explained that usually the landowner will donate the property or someone else will buy the property then donate it. He said that Hunting Valley is in a unique position to conserve a large amount of land because of their financial assets. In addition, he said that the owner could put their property in a conservation easement and it would be a significant tax write off. As a nonprofit agency, Beech Brook does not pay property taxes, he added.

“In Hunting Valley, to be perfectly candid, none of the properties were institutional properties,” Mr. Gentile said. “They were all privately owned properties.”

Ms. Tuschman also said that the property could be used for organizations that serve the poor or the needy rather than another development.

“I’ve listened over the past meetings that I’ve attended to a clear bias against an institutional use of that property,” she said. “As a mental health professional, I have no bias against how Beech Brook served the needs of children. My preference would be that we promote institutions that serve humanity, not a development that serves primarily the developer.”

Residents have repeatedly asked for more detail on what would be built on the property if it is rezoned and if a development plan is approved. Mr. Gentile said that council has also asked for more specificity so council members can make an informed vote on the rezoning.

“It is up to the developer to provide as much specificity as he feels he needs to provide for us to vote yes so it can go on the ballot,” Mr. Gentile said. “If he doesn’t give us enough specificity, we are probably just all going to vote no because we won’t know what he’s going to do there.”

After 30 minutes of discussion on the Beech Brook property, Mayor Bain ended the audience comments section of the meeting since the developer, Bryan Stone, was not present to address their questions.

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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