PEPPER PIKE — After many lengthy discussions on the U-2 zoning code for public buildings, Pepper Pike City Council unanimously passed an ordinance with amendments to the code. Mayor Richard Bain and City Planner George Smerigan said that the code was outdated since it was the original language from 1975.

A one-year moratorium on development and redevelopment in U-2 districts was first put in place in December of 2019. Mayor Bain said that the city decided to revisit their code after a resident questioned the code’s language at a public meeting regarding Axiom Development Group’s plan to rezone and purchase the Beech Brook property. The contract was later terminated, and the rezoning issue failed on the ballot.

In a written report in August to council members, Mr. Smerigan said that the U-2 zoning code had three major deficiencies. He said that the listed permitted uses are not clearly defined and could be interpreted in various ways, including ways that are not appropriate for Pepper Pike. Mr. Smerigan also noted concerns with height and area regulations that would allow an extensive amount of building square footage. He added that there was a lack of development control standards. The revised code addresses Mr. Smerigan’s concerns.

“Thank you to everyone, council, property owners of U-2 properties, various stakeholders, all of the other people within Pepper Pike who have contributed to this conversation and refinement,” Mayor Bain said at the Dec. 23 council meeting. “It is better now than when it began, and I think that’s what process is about.”

Over the summer, representatives from the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University also completed a study of the various economic impacts of different uses within the U-2 zoning districts in Pepper Pike.

In the final version of the ordinance that was presented to council, Mr. Smerigan said that he revised the language regarding buffers for side and rear yards so the Planning and Zoning Commission can protect adjacent properties. He also noted that he is working on a revised tree ordinance to protect the canopy and address tree replacement throughout the city, not just in U-2 zoning districts.

“There should be a [tree] inventory required prior to any project going forward,” Councilman Scott Newell said at the Dec. 16 meeting. “The thing I’m concerned about is when you get down to ‘Did they meet this [requirement],’ we need to have a specific, detailed inventory. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in any of our tree legislation at all.”

The city held a public hearing in December so residents and property owners could comment on the amendments. At the Dec. 16 meeting, Beech Brook’s legal counsel Mara Cushwa said that the amendments give the planning commission more discretion, which could lead to unfair results in potential developments. The behavioral health agency near Lander Circle is zoned U-2.

“Lacking specific guidance, such code provisions frustrate planning, add undue burden, cost and delays on land owners and investors’ efforts to utilize and develop their properties, and specifically U-2 properties,” Ms. Cushwa said last month. “The discretion allows the potential for inconsistent, unfair or damaging results.”

The Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland also own property zoned U-2 in the city and Sister Ritamary Welsh, president of the organization, has stated concerns about the amendments at past meetings. At a public hearing in November, Sister Joanne Gross, in house legal counsel for the Ursuline sisters, said that they are disappointed in the process.

“We disagree with the economic conclusions in that Levin study. But I hope we can all agree that the best measure of the Ursuline sisters’ long-time presence and the benefits we bring to Pepper Pike is not our economic impact,” she said. “For the record, we simply want to state that we are deeply disappointed with this process and the manner in which the city has treated us.”

The Ursuline sisters continue to pursue various developments on their property as the moratorium will end on Jan. 23.

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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