GATES MILLS — After some Village Council members indicated they would not move forward with new zoning for a 16-house cluster development, a group of residents began writing requests for how to handle the master planning process and gathering input from the community for zone changes.
“The mayor has not been very communicative,” Chagrin River Road resident Holly Mathews said.
In April, angry residents packed the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting and the council meeting because developer Nick Lemmo proposed to build 16 houses on 16.5 acres on his property on Chagrin River Road. To move forward with the project, he requested a variance in the zoning code which requires a 5-acre minimum per residence. Neighbors living near Mr. Lemmo’s property gathered to voice their concerns, and formed a group that has now grown into the Gates Mills Residents for Responsible Village Development.
Councilwoman Sandra Turner attended the residents’ meeting on April 15 at the Gates Mills Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library to inform them that council would not move forward with the development plan, according to Ms. Mathews.
At that meeting, the residents worked together to draft a letter to Mayor Karen Schneider and council members with four requests. Ms. Mathews said that residents Brent and Anne Stewart wrote most of the letter, which village officials received early last week, but the group collaborated to come up with the ideas.
The group was guided by Dr. Turner’s suggestion, who said that before residents start petitioning, they should simply ask council to include them in the master planning process, according to Ms. Mathews. Nearly 25 residents attended that meeting and as many as 60 are on the email list.
First, the residents are asking the planning commission to approve a motion at its next meeting stating that they will not make a change to the zoning code until a new master plan has been completed and accepted by the majority of the residents. The second request in the letter is to involve the village residents early in the master planning process.
Third, the residents said that the mayor and council members should work to improve the objectivity, governance and transparency of the planning commission. The fourth request in the letter is to start communications with the community now, such as using the monthly “Pink Sheet” newsletter to explain why council is not moving forward with the plan.
“We feel the discussion at the last council meeting was useful for all,” the letter states. “We want to continue the dialogue and be engaged in the next steps with you.”
In the letter, Ms. Mathews also identified three focus areas that need to be discussed, based on the conversation at the April council meeting. They are updating the master plan for the village, improving the transparency of the planning commission and providing the community with the ability to vote on zone changes.
Ms. Mathews said that Councilman Lawrence Frankel sent her a copy of his letter to the planning commission, which said that Gates Mills is not the place for such a housing development and recommended that the proposal should be denied if it is presented.
Mr. Frankel, Dr. Turner, Councilman Ed Welsh and Councilwomen Mary Reynolds and Ann Whitney replied to the letter signed by Ms. Mathews, and she interpreted their responses as either directly or indirectly saying that they would not support the plan. As of April 26, Mayor Schneider, Councilman Jay “Chip” AuWerter and Councilwoman Nancy Sogg, chairwoman of the planning commission, did not respond.
Mayor Schneider did not respond to the Times’ request for comment on April 29 and Ms. Sogg declined to comment.
Mr. Lemmo spoke with Mayor Schneider two weeks ago regarding his conceptual proposal for the Chagrin River Road site.
“The Mayor has always been clear with me. Council did not make a decision as nothing was placed before them, no application was made,” he said. “We received the feedback we needed and now we will consider that as we move forward.”
He also explained his future plans for the property.
“There are a few options for multi-family housing (homes not apartments) permitted on that property,” he said. “We are exploring those but have not reached any conclusions at this point.”
Mr. Lemmo also commented on misinformation surrounding this property.
“It is shame that so much inaccurate and misleading information affected what was simply a conceptual design, dictated by the obvious challenges in Gates Mills to address the maturing population’s desire to downsize and stay in the village,” he said.
Ms. Mathews also said that she made a public records request to look at the village’s master plan from 1997. She said that the plan focused on maintaining the rural character of the village and continuing to grow and protect the watersheds.
“It’s interesting to see how [planning and zoning] has deviated from that dramatically,” she said.
The next planning commission meeting is May 7 at 5 p.m. at the Gates Mills Village Hall, 1470 Chagrin River Road.