PEPPER PIKE — More than 50 people crowded into the council chambers at City Hall last week as the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously recommended the rezoning ordinance for the Beech Brook property to move on to city council. Audience members are typically not permitted to speak at planning commission meetings, but 15 attendees shared their questions and concerns during the 90 minute discussion.

As Mayor Richard Bain explained his intent to avoid worsening the traffic congestion at Lander Circle, Summit Lane resident Joseph Carey interrupted him.

“There’s no way some new development isn’t going to make it worse, no matter what you do,” Mr. Carey said. “This is nonsense, Mr. Bain. You have some educated, wealthy people sitting here listening to some unmitigated bull****.”

Bryan Stone of Axiom Development Group is under contract to purchase the 68-acre Beech Brook property after the behavioral health agency closed its residential services and plans to relocate its administrative offices. Earlier this year, Mr. Stone proposed a town center on the Beech Brook property, which would need to be rezoned from U-2 institutional to an overlay district that would allow for mixed use. A proposed town center could include residential, office, retail and green spaces.

Although Mr. Stone is only under contract to purchase the Beech Brook property, the rezoning ordinance would also affect the New Directions property and the adjacent parcel known as the Parker or Passov property.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes in Pepper Pike over the years. We look for doing the best for the community over the long term,” planning commission member Bill Melsop said at the Oct. 22 meeting. “It’s not very often that a big chunk of land comes available for development. We want to be sure that property owners are heard and we do the right thing for the city and the property owners.”

With the crowd overflowing into the hallway and an adjacent conference room, City Planner George Smerigan reviewed the most recent changes to the rezoning ordinance. In a previous draft of the ordinance, a facility for entertainment use was limited to 8,000 square feet in size. The commission decided that this could be too small, and now the planning commission can review and approve a performing arts center larger than 8,000 square feet, according to Mr. Smerigan.

A former draft also required 40 percent of the single family units to be detached instead of attached, but the commission revised that requirement to 50 percent, Mr. Smerigan said. Lastly, the previous ordinance required parking spots for multi-family dwellings to be enclosed or sheltered and it was updated to enclosed or underground.

Councilman Richard Leskovec also suggested a change to how density is calculated. Density was based on the gross acreage of the property and Mr. Leskovec suggested that the calculation should exclude the required riparian corridor, and the commission members agreed.

“That would reduce the density effectively,” Mr. Smerigan said.

SOM Center Road residents Manny and Judi Naft started Say No to Rezone, a political action committee to campaign against rezoning these parcels. They have circulated information about the rezoning process and have reached out directly to city officials and spoken at an Orange Board of Education meeting regarding the rezoning. Mr. Stone spoke regarding misinformation on his project.

“If and when the property is rezoned, we will continue the public process and seek extensive input and engagement from stakeholders,” he said. “Those are the types of steps that are often taken in these types of projects. Any inferences to the contrary are misleading.”

The audience members brought different perspectives to the discussion, mostly residents of Pepper Pike but some Orange Village residents also attended. Some were opposed to rezoning the property while others wanted to clarify details or voice their support for having the right to vote on the rezoning.

Although Mayor Bain asked audience members to keep their comments to 2 minutes, Mr. Naft spoke for 13 minutes and brought up his concerns about the traffic flow, extra office and retail space and additional costs to the city for fire and police personnel. The audience applauded for Mr. Naft following his comments.

Summit Lane resident Roya Rezaee said that this is a contentious issue because the city’s message on the rezoning and proposed development is not clear.

“There is no attempt for lack of transparency,” Mayor Bain said.

Some residents did not say whether they supported the Beech Brook rezoning, but advocated for their right to vote on this issue.

“We all deserve to be able to vote in a referendum regardless of what the issue is,” said Pinetree Road resident Patricia Stillman. “Having a choice to vote on the zoning is really important.”

The other commission members offered comments at the end of the meeting. Dave DeWolf said that he would be doing a disservice to not pass through this rezoning ordinance for a vote. Jim Taylor said that this was discussed at several public meetings and the commission should report their findings to the City Council.

The next step is for council to consider the rezoning and hold public hearings. Ultimately, rezoning issues must be approved by voters.

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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