Pepper Pike citizens voted down the Beech Brook rezoning, known as Issue 34, by an overwhelming majority during the general election on Tuesday.
According to unofficial results from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, there were 712 votes in favor of rezoning the Beech Brook property and 3,583 votes against it.
Issue 34 included the Beech Brook property at 3737 Lander Road in addition to two other adjacent properties that are zoned U-2 for public buildings and U-3 for office buildings. If passed, the issue would have rezoned all three parcels to a mixed-use overlay district.
“We always thought that the proposed project would be a benefit to the community. We’re just disappointed with the outcome, but it’s really not unexpected given all the falsehoods and half-truths that were published about Beech Brook, the developer and the project,” Beech Brook CEO Tom Royer said on Tuesday. “Nonetheless, we’ll continue to move forward and fulfill our mission and we’ll look for other buyers for the property.”
This rezoning discussion began two years ago when Bryan Stone, principal of Axiom Development Group, was under contract to purchase the 68-acre property owned by the private nonprofit behavior health agency. He proposed a mixed-use district at the site, which would have included a mix of residential housing, retail stores, offices and green space. After heavy opposition from residents and questioning from city officials, Mr. Stone terminated his contract to buy the Beech Brook property and ended his efforts to rezone it about a month ago.
In an unexpected turn of events, Mr. Royer and Beech Brook’s leadership team asked Mr. Stone to keep Issue 34 on the ballot after Axiom representatives walked away. Mr. Royer has consistently said that because Beech Brook ended its residential treatment in 2016, it no longer needed the large tract of land. The behavioral health agency plans to consolidate its offices in another location. The revenue from the land sale would go to Beech Brook’s endowment fund.
“No one should be surprised given that the proponent of the measure [Axiom] did not campaign it and dropped out of its bid to purchase the property,” Mayor Richard Bain said of the election results on Tuesday.
Mr. Royer said that there is more flexibility for how the property can be used if it is zoned as a mixed-use overlay district rather than U-2, which includes public buildings such as schools, churches, religious institutions and country clubs. If the property had been rezoned to an overlay district in this election, it would have maintained its current status, either U-2 or U-3, until a development plan was approved by city officials for a mixed-use district.
“The city has been successful with the property zoned as U-2 in the past and it will be successful with the property zoned that way in the future,” Mayor Bain said. “It is only 66 acres which alone is not going to change the arc of success of the city one way or the other.”
Mr. Stone faced heavy opposition from the community. SOM Center Road residents Manny and Judi Naft formed the Say No to Rezone Political Action Committee. They sent print and digital communications to city residents about the rezoning issue, bought print ads, disseminated information on their website and Facebook page and encouraged their members to speak out against the rezoning issue at city meetings, which were often packed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Axiom was on a collaborative path with the city, so council members would take a vote to place the rezoning issue on the ballot. Mr. Stone later departed from that plan by choosing to collect signatures from registered voters in the city for an initiative petition instead. City officials said that they were not finished reviewing the language of the proposed new zoning code and therefore did not support it as written.
When Axiom used the petition route to get Issue 34 on the ballot, Mayor Bain said that the city could not support it because the language does not give proper protections to the city. Councilmen Jim LeMay, Bob Freed, Scott Newell and Richard Leskovec also publicly encouraged residents to vote no on the rezoning issue.
“We believe many of the voters were confused about the purpose of the issue,” Mr. Royer said. “The vote was never really about a specific mixed-use development. It was about changing the outdated and restrictive zoning code that we had in place, and one that the city is making more restrictive as we speak.”
There is currently a moratorium in place for development in U-2 districts while the city amends the zoning code. Any future development on the Beech Brook property would be subject to the new regulations. Mr. Royer said that he will work with the city to clarify the future of the property and its zoning.
Beech Brook has been in the Pepper Pike location since 1926.