Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge David Matia ruled in favor of the Hunting Valley Village Planning and Zoning Commission in the Roundwood Manor lawsuit, meaning that the mansion cannot be converted to luxury condominiums.
After unsuccessfully trying to sell her historic home in the Daisy Hill neighborhood for nearly 18 years, owner Sylvia Korey proposed an idea to divide the 55,000-square-foot house into six condominiums. The village’s code requires 5 acres per residence so six condominiums would require 30 acres, but the manor sits on 7 acres. Ms. Korey would have needed a special use permit, which the planning commission denied.
She filed an administrative appeal in the common pleas court in May of 2018. After nearly two years, Judge Matia filed his opinion on March 13.
“Here, it is clear that the 5-to-1 ratio of acres to dwellings has a reasonable relationship to the municipality’s ability to maintain the character of the neighborhood,” Judge Matia stated.
“The village has a rational basis for denying the ordinance as the entire community developed as a single-family dwelling neighborhood, and [the] plaintiff’s interests in increasing the marketability of the property does not render the code as applied to her property unconstitutional.”
Ms. Korey said that she is “profoundly disappointed” by the judge’s decision. She has emphasized that the mansion has historic value because it was the country estate of developers and brothers O.P. and M.J. Van Sweringen, who designed the city of Shaker Heights and Terminal Tower in Cleveland. Philip Small was the architect who designed the colonial revival style mansion, completed in 1923.
“I would not have gone forward with legal proceedings if I thought I would lose, given that there are so many other properties under 5 acres in Hunting Valley, and existing multi-family [structures] within Daisy Hill,” she wrote in a letter to several neighbors following the judge’s decision.
“My intentions were always honest. I always had an unwavering commitment to the future of this historic, important home.” She has previously stated that a buyer likely would raze the mansion and use the land for a new house.
Anthony Coyne of Mansour Gavin, LPA, one of Ms. Korey’s attorneys, said that he and the other attorney, Bruce Rinker, are evaluating if they should appeal the decision to the Eighth District Court of Appeals. Mr. Coyne said that there is a paucity of legal authority in the judge’s opinion.
“We’re looking at other options,” he said on Tuesday. “We have to be respectful of the court’s opinion but that doesn’t mean we can’t appeal it.”
According to the opinion, the case was considered “de novo,” meaning that Judge Matia reviewed the lawsuit without difference to the planning commission’s prior decision, Law Director Steve Byron explained.
Mayor Bruce Mavec said that Judge Matia made the right choice. It is important to all residents to uphold the village’s zoning code, the mayor said. Over the years, many property owners in Hunting Valley have placed deed restrictions on their property so it cannot be divided into a piece smaller than 5 acres, according to the mayor. To allow such an exception for Roundwood Manor, he said, would shortchange the other residents.
“It’s important for the character of the community to be maintained by less dense development,” he said.
Mayor Mavec noted that the legal proceedings regarding Roundwood Manor were an “unfortunate event” because residents of the same village were at odds. This is the correct decision, he said.
The village spent upwards of $250,000 on three attorneys on this case. Mayor Mavec said that it was an unfortunate expenditure, “but we had to do it.” Roundwood Manor is a special place and has important historic aspects, he said, adding that it has been a single family residence for many years and he expects that it will continue to be one.
Ms. Korey would not reveal how much she has spent on legal fees.
“Right now, I am processing the judge’s decision and am not certain what the future holds,” she wrote in the letter.