PEPPER PIKE — Beech Brook CEO Tom Royer released a statement claiming that the city’s rezoning process helped lead to the failed land sale to Axiom Development Group, which fell through in September.

In the statement, Beech Brook’s leadership team shared several issues, including city leaders’ original expressed desire for mixed-use zoning and the moratorium on development or redevelopment of properties zoned U-2, such as Beech Brook.

Pepper Pike resident and Axiom Principal Bryan Stone on Sept. 25 terminated his option to purchase 68-acres from Beech Brook, a private behavior health agency serving youths. He had intended to build a mixed-use district with housing, shopping and offices. Residents had spoken out against the proposal, citing a number of issues including increased traffic and density.

Last week, Mr. Royer said that Issue 34, seeking to rezone the Beech Brook land for an overlay mixed-use district, would remain on the Nov. 3 ballot. Rezoning would make the land more attractive to buyers, he said. Mr. Stone and another city resident initiated Issue 34 and are the only people who can request its removal from the ballot up to a day before the election.

“Now after more than two years,” Mr. Royer stated, “the city’s mishandled process has resulted in Beech Brook losing a willing buyer and the millions of dollars it would have realized from the sale – money it could then put to work to provide critical, lifesaving and community-enhancing mental health services.”

The statement goes on to say that Beech Brook is “dedicated” to advancing plans to sell or utilize the campus in revenue-producing ways. According to the statement, Mayor Richard Bain and city officials were fully supportive of a sale to Axiom for a mixed-use development and expressed “enthusiasm” for the economic opportunity.

Mayor Bain said last week that “Beech Brook is frustrated with its own failure to have effectively managed its sale of property to a buyer and by not completing working with the city to achieve zoning language supportable by the city.”

Axiom had been working with city officials to get the issue on the ballot but then decided to take the initiative petition route bypassing City Council.

“Instead,” the mayor said, “wanting to get on this November’s ballot, the zoning language was withdrawn from obtaining input from the city.

“The zoning language was prematurely frozen in time by Beech Brook and Axiom and placed on the ballot by initiative petition prior to being in a form acceptable to the city. Axiom acknowledged the ballot’s zoning language was inadequate,” he said. “The city’s process was open, deliberate and fair to all. Beech Brook elected to not be engaged in the process.”

In December of 2019, City Council passed a one-year moratorium on development and redevelopment in the U-2 zoning districts to give the city time to review the regulations and make necessary updates. The U-2 zoning code dates back to 1975.

Beech Brook’s letter states that the moratorium affected its deal with Axiom. Mayor Bain said that the moratorium ordinance expressly exempted Axiom’s rezoning application with Beech Brook. He also said that if Beech Brook officials want to propose a different rezoning of its property, it would not be prohibited by the moratorium. Mayor Bain said that nothing prevents Beech Brook from using its property under the existing zoning or selling to a similar user.

Some people have expressed concerns that by leaving the rezoning issue on the ballot, it would be seen as a “referendum against future mixed-use zoning,” according to Beech Brook’s statement. Beech Brook encouraged city officials to assure the community that this is not the case by making a public statement that they are in favor of mixed-use.

“Mixed-use zoning is essentially what Pepper Pike already is, it is not different. Attaching that zoning to the Beech Brook property was really a microcosm of what people enjoy in Pepper Pike,” Mayor Bain said. “A third of it was residential, a third of it was protected green space and a third of it would have been a mix of commercial, offices and very light retail. The challenge was tailoring zoning language that the city could support which would reflect that.”

According to Beech Brook’s statement, the city should protect and respect the nonprofit’s property rights.

“Beech Brook has been a good neighbor throughout its [more than] 100-year history on its property,” the statement noted. “When the Orange schools needed land, we were willing sellers for the good of the children of Pepper Pike. That property was added to the Orange schools’ campus and playing fields. When the city asked to buy a Beech Brook-owned building and associated land on Chagrin Boulevard for the creation of an art center, we willingly provided that parcel.”

Beech Brook’s team said that they are “greatly disappointed” in what they experienced over the past two years. Mayor Bain, however, said that the community mounted a fierce opposition that went unanswered for too long by Beech Brook and Axiom.

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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