Solon City Council members Monday unanimously rescinded a nine-month moratorium on redevelopment at the Uptown Solon Shopping Center just one week after approving the initial action.
The moratorium originally had been put to a vote during an early morning special council meeting on Jan. 27 and approved as an emergency measure. It was to apply to all of the buildings within the 22-year-old plaza, structures, property and land on Kruse Drive.
Mayor Edward H. Kraus said last week that the moratorium was an opportunity for the city to get what it wanted for one of its core shopping plazas, which has been losing some of its tenants, including the Mustard Seed Market late last year.
In further describing the need for the moratorium, the ordinance had outlined changing planning conditions to the center, including the loss of a necessary and essential anchor and supporting tenants, potential imminent changes in the plaza ownership, as well as receipt of proposals from external sources to alter permitted uses and building sizes in order to preserve the marketability and viability of the plaza and vicinity. The original legislation noted the substantial expansion of high density residential components in the immediate vicinity.
“The City of Solon considers this altered planning situation to pose a potential serious and substantial threat to both the long term economic viability of the Uptown Solon Shopping Center property and the larger vicinity,” the ordinance read.
But Mayor Kraus said Tuesday that he received various phone calls and emails from the plaza ownerships’ legal counsel, Attorney Steven Kaufman, and spoke to him over the weekend.
“One of the things I wanted was to get their attention on what the future is of Uptown,” Mayor Kraus said, “and what will go in some of the empty spaces.
“We had a really good conversation and I wanted to make sure we were on the same page with them and we would be able to sit down and discuss this,” the mayor said. He was told the plaza ownership Site Center, which is an off spin of Developers Diversified Realty of Cleveland would do that, but only if the moratorium was lifted.
“One of the issues for me is I needed to protect us and make sure we were not going to get sued,” the mayor continued. “As part of the agreement (to rescind the moratorium), they agreed not to bring a lawsuit.
“For us, it would go on for a long time, and I didn’t want to open up the city for potential damages,” Mayor Kraus said.
He said the ownership would only discuss options for the plaza if the moratorium was lifted. “I just felt like at that point, it was more important for me to open up those channels of communication,” he said.
Mayor Kraus said Mr. Kaufman did not specifically state the company would sue the city, “but certainly when there is a lawyer involved, there is a potential.”
Mayor Kraus said the channels of communication are now open.
Mr. Kaufman, of the law firm Ulmer and Berne LLP headquartered in Cleveland, said Tuesday that “our overall position was that my client was very surprised that the city took a drastic action of enacting an emergency moratorium on our property without prior communication.
“At the same time, we are pleased to see they lifted the moratorium, and we can continue to operate our property,” he said.
Mr. Kaufman said the property has been under consideration for sale for some time.
The Uptown Solon Shopping Center, the second newest in the city following the Solon Village Shopping Center on Aurora Road, includes Ulta Beauty, Old Navy and Pier 1, among other retailers.
Last week’s moratorium passed by a vote of 6-1, with Councilmen Jeremy A. Zelwin, William I. Russo, Robert Shimits, Robert N. Pelunis and Eugene Macke Bentley and Councilwoman Nancy E. Meany voting in favor and Councilman Marc R. Kotora voting against. Mr. Kotora said the moratorium was government overreach especially since the issue had not been previously discussed on the committee level or opened to public comment.
Law Director Thomas G. Lobe had said last week that, while moratoriums are a “lightning rod for litigation” they are in fact legal.
“I feel that the administration and council should be ashamed of themselves for passing a piece of legislation that is so stark in contrast with rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States,” Mr. Kotora said. “Passing it at a special meeting, under the premise that it is an emergency and needs to be passed to protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents is just bad government.
“I am not surprised one bit by the property owner’s threats of litigation nor the sense of urgency that they pursued it,” he added. “Ultimately, I am pleased that the moratorium was reconsidered and our city leadership is no longer operating outside of the bounds of good and proper government.”
The city approved a moratorium in 2011 specific to the Echo development where a Giant Eagle Market District now sits at Aurora and SOM Center roads.