MORELAND HILLS — The Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously denied an area variance for a proposed new residential subdivision on Miles Road during their meeting Monday night. The variance would have permitted developer Jason Friedman to bypass a provision in the code for a residential open space conservation district.

Derek and Rebecca Smith currently own a 20-acre farm on Miles Road. There are already two houses there and Mr. Friedman proposed building eight more houses. This property and several others in the village have been zoned U-4, a residential open space conservation district, since 2005. According to the code, the purpose is to encourage environmentally sensitive residential development in parts of the community that are affected by severe constraints such as wetlands, unstable soils and floodplains.

The code requires that at least 30 percent of the area possess natural development constraints. Mr. Friedman’s civil engineer, Joe Gutoskey, found that the property meets that code requirement. Village Engineer Jeff Filarski, however, said that he found about 12.5 percent of natural development constraints, so the application did not fit the code.

The developer and the Planning Commission discussed this in early August. At Monday’s meeting, Mr. Friedman did not appeal Mr. Filarski’s determination, but rather sought a variance to move forward with his proposed development despite the disagreement about the percentage of development constraints.

“To me, the spirit and intent of that zoning requirement was to protect environmentally sensitive areas,” Councilman Paul Stanard said, who chairs the board of zoning appeals. “And I just can’t really see that what we’re talking about here is primarily protecting environmentally sensitive areas.”

Mr. Friedman had several points in favor of the variance. He said that his plan has the same density as the rest of the village. The U-1 dwelling house district requires 87,000 square feet per lot, which is 2 acres. Mr. Friedman’s U-4 proposal included 10 houses total on a 20-acre property, which would also have a density of 2 acres per residence, he said. He also said that his U-4 proposal would yield more open space than a traditional U-1 housing development.

“We like the idea of having more green space,” Mr. Friedman said. “We like the idea of having less pavement.”

Mr. Filarski offered a hypothetical site plan that would not require a variance. Instead of building eight new homes, he said that six new homes could be built on 2-acre lots. Mayor Dan Fritz said that some of the lots in Mr. Friedman’s proposal were less than 1 acre in size but were surrounded by open space.

The “crux” of the disagreement, the mayor said, is how the property can be developed. Mr. Friedman’s attorney, Jordan Berns, said that this is the only way to develop the property while Mayor Fritz and the village officials said that there are other permitted uses in the U-4 code if the 30 percent requirement is not met.

Mr. Berns said that comments from the board members and the administration seem to be “hinged on the notion” that there is an alternative way to develop this property that is not in the zoning language.

“Let me be blunt. That is pure and utter fantasy,” Mr. Berns said. “There is nothing in your code that allows this property to be developed as U-1, single family detached housing. Nothing.”

Mayor Fritz said that the benefit of the U-4 code is that houses can be clustered together when there are severe environmental constraints. In the absence of development constraints, there are permitted uses in the U-4 code and the development must comply with other village zoning requirements. According to the U-4 zoning code, single family detached dwellings are a permitted use.

There was a public hearing before the board voted on the requested variance and three neighbors spoke. Miles Road resident Betsy Hruby owns the property that shares an eastern border with the Smith residence and said that she is concerned with traffic, noise, water runoff and how this development might affect her property value.

Moreland Hills resident Bruce Blake lives across Miles from Ms. Hruby and had similar concerns. He also said that the density of the proposed development would change the character of the neighborhood, adding that it is more appropriate for Orange Village.

“It’s a shame that it’s come to this,” Mr. Blake said during the public hearing.

Charles Hurst, who has lived two doors down from the Smith residence for the last 47 years, said that he is opposed to the development because of the “unknowns” that come with the proposal and his concern that it will change the character of the neighborhood.

On Tuesday, Mayor Fritz said that he has received several calls from concerned residents who do not want to see the property developed. Although the Smith family has an inherent right to sell their property, the mayor said, it is the village’s responsibility to ensure that any development falls in line with the zoning code. He said that residents are not in favor of increasing the housing density. Board member Peter Bolek agreed, noting that the community strongly supports the 2-acre minimum.

Member Bill Janke also said that 2-acre lots are more appealing to residents. He recalled that council candidates always run with a platform to maintain the 2-acre zoning. In addition, Mr. Janke said that he values the input from the neighbors who spoke at the public hearing.

There was a second variance on the agenda that would have led to a discussion about the preliminary development plan, but that did not take place because this variance was not granted. Mayor Fritz said that Mr. Friedman can challenge the board of zoning appeals’ decision or come back with a new proposal.

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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