PEPPER PIKE — Following confusion over the status of Issue 34, Beech Brook CEO Tom Royer told the Times on Tuesday that the rezoning issue will remain on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Bryan Stone, the principal of Axiom Development Group, on Sept. 25 terminated the contract to purchase 68 acres of Beech Brook’s property and announced that he would not seek to rezone the property for his mixed-use project proposing housing, shops, offices and more.
“We’re not going to remove it from the ballot because the more flexibility this property has, the better for us,” Mr. Royer said. “The ballot issue isn’t about [Axiom’s] development, it’s about the zoning of the property.”
Residents have expressed fierce opposition to the mixed-use concept saying it is out of character for the suburban community.
Mayor Richard Bain said that he is surprised by Mr. Royer’s decision to keep the rezoning issue on the ballot. Mayor Bain said that it is “somewhat contrary” to the impressions he had before and he reiterated that the rezoning initiative should not be supported by city voters.
When asked if the decision to keep the rezoning issue on the ballot was recent, Mr. Royer said that Beech Brook never contemplated removing the issue from the ballot. But, he said, board members of the private behavior health agency for youths did not expect the contract with Axiom to fall through.
“It would have been nice to forthrightly explain that up front. I’m surprised by the position they’re taking,” Mayor Bain said on Tuesday. “It was never expressed to the city that this would remain on the ballot.”
The ballot issue was pursued by Axiom officials who hired a firm to collect signatures for the initiative petition and thus bypassing City Council.
Mike West, Cuyahoga County Board of Elections manager of community outreach, said that the petition committee is the point person to get an issue off the ballot. The petition committee is comprised of Mr. Stone and Pepper Pike resident Jeffrey Glueck. To withdraw the issue, the committee needs to submit a letter to the city. The city would then forward the letter to the elections board. As of Tuesday, the city had not received a withdrawal letter.
Although Mr. Stone and Mr. Glueck are the only ones who can withdraw the rezoning issue, Mr. Stone said that he would bow to the directives of Beech Brook officials. As of Tuesday, Mr. Stone said he had not received official word from Mr. Royer about the agency’s intentions for the rezoning issue.
Issue 34 proposes changing zoning from institutional use to mixed-use zoning.
“ADG [Axiom Development Group] Willey Creek LLC is no longer involved with the Beech Brook property, neither its purchase nor rezoning,” Mr. Stone said on Monday. “The rezoning is still on the ballot and if Beech Brook is interested in pursuing that then that’s up to them.”
Mayor Bain said that in recent conversations, Mr. Stone and Mr. Royer were “pointing at each other” for who makes the final decision on the rezoning issue.
Some residents are skeptical. Manny and Judi Naft, co-treasurers of the Say No to Rezone Political Action Committee, questioned whether voters are deliberately being misled into thinking that the issue is “dead” when it remains on the ballot.
According to board of elections officials, the hard deadline to remove an issue and ensure that it will not appear on the printed ballot is 60 days before the election. That deadline has passed. Issues can be legally taken off a ballot up to the day before Election Day. If officially off the ballot, the elections board would post a notice at polling places. Pepper Pike Law Director Steve Byron said that there is no legal requirement to take the issue off the ballot.
On Monday, Mayor Bain said that he last spoke to Mr. Stone on Sept. 29, when the Axiom principal indicated that he intended to remove Issue 34 from the ballot. According to Mayor Bain, Mr. Stone said that he would be happy to remove the issue from the ballot but wanted Beech Brook’s consent.
Councilman Manohar Daga said that residents should vote on the rezoning issue until it is officially withdrawn by the board of elections. Mr. Daga added that Axiom has only terminated its contract to purchase the Beech Brook property, which has no impact on the status of the ballot rezoning issue.
“The zoning change would affect any developer, not just Axiom,” Mr. Daga said. “Whether Axiom could close that deal and benefit from that zoning change doesn’t matter.”
When Mr. Stone first announced that he was not going to pursue the rezoning, Councilman Jim Juliano said residents should have an opportunity to clearly voice their support or opposition at the polls. Now with the confusion over Issue 34, Mr. Juliano said election results would be unclear.
“Even if residents are able to vote on Nov. 3, the results of that vote are going to be questionable. Not because they’re illegal in some way, but because the residents may be confused about whether they should be voting at all and how they should vote,” he said. “The results will be of very little weight in my mind.”
Councilman Scott Newell said that he would like to see Axiom withdraw the rezoning issue because they “set this process in motion.” He also noted that Mr. Stone said in the Sept. 25 press release that the project is no longer feasible.