PEPPER PIKE — With the lifting of a moratorium on development in U-2 zoning districts set for Jan. 23, Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland plan to reconsider a proposal to build a residential retirement community.

Through a public records request, the Times received preliminary plans for a retirement community with a maximum density of 176 units on 30 acres of the Ursuline Sisters’ land.

Sister Ritamary Welsh, president of the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland, said that no plans have officially been submitted to the city due to the moratorium on U-2 development. Now that council has passed new zoning language, she said that the leadership team will revisit the proposal and determine their next steps.

“That proposal has been put on hold because Pepper Pike was redoing its zoning code for the U-2 public buildings district. We were not sure until that was complete what we would be able to build,” she said on Jan. 5. “We have 20 acres where we are tearing down the [old] motherhouse. Now we have to go look at the new code.”

Any future projects on U-2 land will be subject to the revised zoning adopted on Dec. 23, city officials said.

In a summary submitted to the city last year, the project is described as an “institutionally sponsored community targeting active adults age 55 and older.” The concept is based on 60 “University Based Retirement Communities” nationwide that allow retirees to continue to learn, grow and contribute to their communities. The proposal is consistent with the mission of the Ursuline sisters to transform society through contemplation, justice and compassion, according to the project summary.

Pepper Pike Mayor Richard Bain said that the sisters submitted plans, but he advised them that the city would not entertain proposals while the moratorium was in place. According to the mayor, the sisters sent a letter to council members with attachments of preliminary drawings for their proposal.

“The [site] plan, which of course is subject to refinement based on market demand and community input, contemplates both attached and detached single family homes and townhomes, many of which will have master bedrooms on the first floor, include well-appointed amenities and will have access to an adjacent walking/nature path,” according to the project summary. The site plan was created by the Mannik and Smith Group, an engineering consulting firm, and conceptual drawings of the homes were designed by Pulte Homes.

Randy Ruttenberg, a principal with Fairmount Properties, said that there is a memorandum of understanding between the Ursuline sisters and Fairmount Properties to evaluate a potential sale of the sisters’ land. He said that Fairmount Properties has a platform dedicated to helping colleges and universities with their recruitment and retention, including creating vibrant places to live, work and recreate around higher education institutions.

“One of the ways we are helping schools is by assisting them in the evaluation of underutilized or dormant assets to help them raise important funds for operations or other priority projects,” Mr. Ruttenberg said on Tuesday. “In the case of Ursuline, we have entered into an MOU with the Ursuline sisters to help them evaluate a potential sale of a piece of land they own that is underutilized. While we have looked at this land for a programmatic linked housing initiative, this is on hold pending a number of items, including the ultimate zoning decisions recently undertaken by the city.”

He said that Fairmount Properties has been working with the Ursuline sisters for more than three years on this initiative. Now that the zoning study has been completed, Mr. Ruttenberg said that he anticipates re-engaging soon with the sisters.

Sister Christine De Vinne, president of Ursuline College, said that the college has been aware of the sisters’ intent to sell and develop their property for the last five years. Ursuline College and the Ursuline sisters own adjacent property in Pepper Pike but are separate entities.

She said that the college made an offer to purchase the sisters’ property in 2018, but the sisters declined the offer because they had other plans. Mayor Bain said that the college’s offer was the same purchase price that Mr. Ruttenberg put forth. Sister De Vinne said that it is “difficult to do a point to point comparison” because of varying factors.

“Our sisters are getting older and we have a real commitment to support our sisters’ care,” Sister Welsh said.

Sister De Vinne said that the college is always in continuing discussions with the sisters, adding that the college did not have definite plans for how to use the old motherhouse or the land when it made an offer to purchase it.

“The sisters are our sponsors,” Sister De Vinne said on Monday. “We are Ursuline College because of the Ursuline sisters.”

Pepper Pike Law Director Steve Byron said that the property would need to be rezoned to be compatible with a residential use. He said that there has not been an official submission to the city requesting action on any proposal, but there have been communications between the sisters and Mayor Bain.

“Their proposal is a residential development. That would require rezoning from U-2,” Mr. Byron said last week. “U-2 does not allow residential development.”

The preliminary site plan submitted by the sisters noted that this development would be in a U-1A townhouse district, but the property is currently zoned U-2. Mr. Byron said that he has not studied the proposal yet to determine if their plans are compatible with the townhouse district. Mayor Bain pointed out that Medina Creative Living has also discussed development plans on the sisters’ property for a residential facility for people with disabilities. Both plans, he said, would require a rezoning initiative.

“The city has viewed this development by Medina Creative Living as a companion piece to the large residential community as well,” Mayor Bain said. “It seems to be part of an overall development plan for the entire property. It doesn’t seem right to view one without the other, both require rezoning of the property.”

He also said that when the Ursuline sisters first proposed their new motherhouse known as Merici Crossings, which opened in 2019, they indicated interest in conserving wetlands on their property. Mayor Bain said that the sisters asked council members to pass a resolution in support of their conservation efforts, which council passed in 2015, but the Western Reserve Land Conservancy did not remain involved with the sisters.

Sister Welsh said that they still plan to conserve the wetlands but need to look at how their property can be used again since the amended U-2 zoning code was passed. Alex Czayka, senior vice president for conservation transactions for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, said that there is no active partnership with the sisters at this time.

“A previous staff member was in discussions with the sisters four to five years ago,” Mr. Czayka said. “Since then, there have not been recent conversations. I’m not aware of any recent discussions.” He said that the conservancy is open to having a discussion with the Ursuline sisters about conserving the wetlands.

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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