PEPPER PIKE — Axiom Development Group withdrew its rezoning application Monday that was before City Council. On Tuesday morning, Axiom’s initiative petition signatures were certified by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections allowing the issue to go before voters during the Nov. 3 election.

But Axiom’s attorney Dale Markowitz shared a letter with Mayor Richard Bain and City Council saying that the company will immediately get to work on making revisions to the zoning amendment based on comments from council last week and an analysis done by City Planner George Smerigan.

Mr. Markowitz also noted that residents will not have to vote on the rezoning of the Beech Brook, New Directions and the Parker/Passov properties during the general election. He said that Axiom’s Nov. 3 deadline has become a “major stumbling block” in collaborating with the residents and council.

Mr. Markowitz said that Axiom will not yet withdraw its petition at the elections board but will do so after it meets with City Council and its consultants for feedback on the zoning language. A petition can be withdrawn, “essentially at almost any time,” according to Mr. Markowitz’s letter. Mayor Bain and the majority of council members agreed that the letter is not clear on how Axiom plans to proceed.

“It’s been ambiguous at best what their intentions are,” Mayor Bain said on Tuesday.

Rezoning application withdrawn

Principal Bryan Stone of Axiom Development Group is under contract to purchase the Beech Brook property at 3737 Lander Road. His application would rezone the 65 acres along with two neighboring parcels for a mixed-use district with retail, housing, office and green space. Beech Brook CEO Tom Royer said that from his perspective, everything is “status quo” because Axiom is still under contract to purchase the property. The purchase price has been undisclosed.

Mr. Markowitz said in his letter that since the rezoning application has been withdrawn, the public hearing via Zoom scheduled for July 29 at 5:30 p.m. should be canceled. Mayor Bain announced in an email to residents that the session will proceed as a town hall meeting on the current ballot initiative for rezoning.

“The public are the most important people we need to hear from,” Councilman Scott Newell said.

Axiom has been on two paths that would both lead to the Nov. 3 ballot. The development company first began working with the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council through an application for rezoning the property. In June, Axiom also hired a company to collect signatures of Pepper Pike registered voters for an initiative petition to go directly to the ballot bypassing council. The required 368 signatures were obtained and certified by the board of elections on Tuesday.

During a council meeting last week, Axiom officials indicated that they had been too busy on other projects to gather additional information previously promised to members.

Mr. Markowitz also said last week that Axiom officials would decide which route to take to the ballot once the board of elections viewed the signatures.

But the application before the city was withdrawn a day before the petition was approved.

“I’m very disappointed,” Councilman Bob Freed said on Tuesday. “Through this whole process, I’ve tried to keep an open mind and see the process to the very end. I was hoping that Axiom could show me why their development would be good for Pepper Pike. They didn’t fulfill that hope. I’m concerned that this is the wrong development and the wrong developer for this project.”

Councilman Jim Juliano said that he applauds Axiom for taking a step to regroup and try to discuss more options with the city than have been discussed so far and respond to questions that were left unanswered.

“City council’s concern is to be reviewing a zoning application and to do it in good course and thoughtfully and if it’s necessary to not have it ready for this November, then it’s not ready for this November,” Mayor Bain told Mr. Markowitz last week, before the rezoning application was withdrawn. “That is a business concern of your client’s and not of the city council, frankly.”

Zoning language changes

On June 1, Axiom released a revised zoning ordinance for the proposed mixed-use district. Mr. Smerigan’s report reviews those changes. Axion has a website, pepperpikeneighborhood.com, that shares the “vision” for the property, including a site plan and a video of Mr. Stone explaining his plans. Mr. Smerigan advised that although he may have a vision right now, there is no requirement in the ballot issue to build within that same vision.

“The issue for me is that they may have a vision, they may be entirely genuine about what they would like to do and intend to do, but once the property is rezoned, the property is rezoned. There’s not a requirement to build in accordance with that vision,” Mr. Smerigan said. “I think it’s fair that everyone understands that.”

Mr. Stone has emphasized that retail has been capped at a limit of 40,000 square feet. But Mr. Smerigan pointed out that there is not a cap on commercial space. Under the proposed zoning language, Councilman Jim LeMay asked, could the northern district be entirely office buildings. Mr. Smerigan confirmed that this scenario would comply with the code.

Mr. Smerigan also said that there is no minimum requirement for different uses. He explained that the benefit of a mixed-use district is to offset the costs of the residential areas with the revenue from the commercial and retail uses. If there is no minimum requirement for any of the proposed uses, there could potentially be no balance.

Mr. Stone said that all multifamily dwellings have been removed from the plan. But Mr. Smerigan said that the zoning language still includes vertically integrated buildings, meaning that there could be residences above the first-floor of commercial buildings.

“To me, those are multifamily units,” he said. “That’s one of the things that needs clarification on the revised draft.”

Mayor Bain said that according to Mr. Smerigan’s analysis, the current proposed zoning language for a mixed-use district does not protect the city’s interests.

“I agree with that analysis and as the language now exists, I cannot support the ballot initiative as it is written because the way it is written does not adequately protect the city’s interests in rezoning the property for reasons at least as expressed by Mr. Smerigan in his report,” Mayor Bain said. Mr. Markowitz wrote in his letter that Axiom can address Mr. Smerigan’s concerns.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the city with the knowledge that we will be able to meet all of George Smerigan’s comments and concerns and tighten up the ordinance in ways that will be satisfactory not only to the council members but the residents of the city,” he wrote.

In a statement, Mr. Stone said that the city asked Axiom to withdraw their rezoning application when the city became aware that Axiom had enough signatures to qualify for the Nov. 3 ballot. Mayor Bain said that is not the case, adding that the city did not find out that Axiom had enough signatures for the petition until after the company withdrew the application before council. Mr. Stone said that he withdrew the application in hopes of making minor adjustments then would resubmit it to council for consideration as soon as possible.

In a statement released on July 13 by the Say No to Rezone Political Action Committee, co-treasurers Manny and Judi Naft said that residents of Pepper Pike, Orange Village and Moreland Hills have placed 300 yard signs on their property to show their stance against Mr. Stone’s proposal.

Mr. Markowitz did not return calls from the Times and the rezoning application was removed from the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.

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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