GATES MILLS — Village Council last week discussed the difference between housing density in a conservation district and a development with cluster homes.

Councilman Larry Frankel asked about the language in the village zoning code after residents began to question how acreage is accounted for in cluster home projects.

Law Director Todd Hunt told council during a June 11 meeting that the purpose of a conservation development district is to protect environmentally sensitive areas and give property owners rights to develop their land.

In a conservation development district, houses can be built closer together than in a traditional subdivision, Mr. Hunt said. But the density in a conservation district must be the lesser of two formulas – one unit per 5 acres or the number of units that would be possible from a yield plan.

Mr. Hunt said that a yield plan shows how many units can be built on a property after taking all of the village planning and zoning code regulations into consideration. He gave examples of factors that must be considered in a yield plan, including the width of the street, pavement and right of way and where utilities would be placed.

In short, Mr. Hunt said that the village’s one residence per 5 acre zoning regulation would be maintained in a conservation district.

If a developer is considering a property to be a conservation development district, Mr. Hunt said that the developer is required to submit two layout plans. One is for a traditional subdivision and one is for a conservation district. For a conservation district, 50 percent of the land must be placed in a conservation easement so it cannot be developed. The streets can also be public or private, and each dwelling must meet the required setbacks from environmentally sensitive areas, particularly hillsides and wetlands, he said.

“With an environmentally sensitive piece of property with lots of environmental features, you can put housing units on that are closer together,” Mr. Hunt said.

Currently there are no properties in the village that are designated as a conservation district. One such property was approved several years ago, Mr. Hunt said, but the developer did not move forward with the plan. The conservation district chapter of the zoning code was adopted in 2007.

Mr. Hunt said that low density would be preserved in a conservation district after developers take into consideration the required 200 feet of frontage on a street, in addition to a minimum of 5 acres per residence and front, rear and side yard setbacks.

“In virtually every case, that lesser number of homes are what would be in a traditional subdivision,” he explained. “It tries to permit someone with environmentally sensitive property to use their property to develop for homes but on a limited basis.”

Audience members asked if the conservation district is similar to cluster homes. Mr. Hunt explained that they are similar because the homes can be closer together but said that the density is much lower in a conservation district. In an interview on June 14, he gave an example with Nick Lemmo’s property on Chagrin River Road.

This spring, the Planning and Zoning Commission and council reviewed an informal proposal for 16 houses on Mr. Lemmo’s 16-acre property, and Mr. Hunt said that such a proposal has a much higher density than what would be permitted in a conservation district. In addition, Mr. Hunt said that a conservation district must be at least 25 acres.

The language concerning a conservation district was up for review. No formal project proposal has been made.

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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