The public weighed in virtually, including representatives of the Cleveland Metroparks, during a public hearing last week on Hawthorne Golf Estates, a senior living development planned for about 32 acres of land adjacent to the Hawthorne Valley Country Club.
The Solon Planning Commission opened the public hearing and will continue it at the next meeting at 7:30 p.m. on May 26.
The new zoning classification would need to be drafted and, if approved by City Council, could be put on the November ballot for voters to weigh in. The property would need to be rezoned from its current R-1-D (single family residential) to R-2-A (one and two family senior citizen residential zoning.
A conceptual development plan calls for 105 single family residential homes, including accessory outdoor parking areas, as well as a potential future clubhouse and recreation area for people 50 years or older, starting at $350,000 each, as well as the preservation through a conservation easement of the golf course, measuring 150 acres.
Access to the site would be provided via a private street connection to the Cleveland Metroparks Hawthorn Parkway, in accordance with an easement with that entity.
Kyle Baker, director of real estate for Cleveland Metroparks, addressed planners at the hearing, and said it is a “sensitive property.”
He said the park system wants to be a “conservation partner” with the city, and he cited a letter drafted to the city by Stephanie Kutsko, real estate manager for the park system, in which deed restrictions, involving setbacks from the park property, were outlined.
“The proposed rezoning does not conflict with the recorded deed restrictions,” she wrote, “however it is imperative that these deed restrictions are incorporated into the development of this property.
“Deed restrictions are legal property rights under Ohio law and Cleveland Metroparks considers deed restrictions such as these to be a critical mechanism to maintaining the integrity of the natural and cultural resources of the park.”
Ms. Kutsko went on to write that, if approved, the “up zoning” and development of the subject parcels will place new and intensified pressures on Cleveland Metroparks infrastructure. As a result, the park system requested that the city prepare a perpetual maintenance agreement for the segment of Hawthorn Parkway serving the subject parcels in order to allow for the proper and orderly development of the land, if rezoned.
They also asked that the city pay “critical attention” to traffic generation from the development and impacts on signal warrants and tributary intersections, including Aurora Road and Hawthorn Parkway.
Larry Apple, who spoke on behalf of property owner Fred Rzepka and TransCon Builders Inc., said the development proposed has farther setbacks from the park than past plans that were subsequently rejected by voters at the ballot.
Mr. Apple said that the developer is also fully prepared to sign a development agreement prior to passage by City Council to assure the community that what they build is what they are proposing now.
“We understand that this is a legally binding agreement that will require we build what we have here,” he said.
Mr. Apple said the development is environmentally sensitive, guarantees protection for the city and the community and fiscally responsible. He also said it is in accordance with the city’s master plan and is more than 1/3 a mile away from single family homes on Aurora Road and Richmond Road, and therefore will not have an impact on existing homes.
City Planning Director Robert S. Frankland said the new zoning classification is specifically designed to exclusively permit lower intensity, senior citizen restricted developments comprised of single family detached and/or attached two family residences.
All of the existing Solon senior housing zoning classifications, such as Carrington Court on Aurora Road or the Vitalia Active Adult Community at the intersection of Kruse Drive and Bainbridge Road, permit much higher intensity type uses including apartments, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
The proposed R-2-A zoning restricts development density to four units per acre.
Mr. Frankland said the site plan, while preliminary in nature, provides a potential opportunity to address important Master Plan goals, such as continuing to broaden access to diverse senior living markets within the community.
“The proposed new R-2-A zoning would provide the city with yet another tool to appropriately and rationally respond to development opportunities as they arise,” Mr. Frankland said.
Richmond Road resident Christine Jindra asked Mr. Apple if the developers are offering the golf course land for sale to the metroparks.
It is not for sale currently, Mr. Apple said, “but we are listening.”
Hawthorne Valley Country Club closed about two years ago and had operated as a private club.
Mr. Apple said it will be private, open space and not kept as a golf course and would only be open to the public if a public entity or non-profit organization bought it. It is hoped a community organization will want to buy it and make it available to the public, Mr. Apple said.
“We have had preliminary conversations with various organizations, and we are willing to talk to them,” Mr. Apple said.
“It’s in the best interest of the city to have a beautiful public park,” Mayor Edward H. Kraus, a member of the commission, said of the preserved area, citing as an example the Acacia Reservation on Cedar Road in Lyndhurst.
“It can be as nice or better (than Acacia),” Mayor Kraus continued of the golf course. Converting golf courses into parks and walking trails “are great for the long-term viability of the community.”
Mr. Frankland noted that the golf course parcel would represent the largest piece of preserved land in the city.
“Very rarely do cities in this day and age get to take large parcels like that and have it preserved in perpetuity for green space,” Mayor Kraus said. “Most of the time it backfires on communities where those proprieties end up getting developed and you lose all that green space.
“This plan gives us opportunity to fill a huge void in our market and let people stay in Solon,” the mayor added. “To be able to preserve it and potentially have it converted to a public park is a rare opportunity.”
Mayor Kraus said that, when large areas are preserved, “it forces developers to look at commercial and retail areas for development, not the outlining areas It’s a better plan than what the city was faced with years ago.”
Previous plans showed a greater number of units at just over 180 and many of those units were duplexes or three-plexes. The current plan calls for houses starting at 1,500 square feet and up.
Councilwoman Nancy E. Meany, who represents Ward 5 where the project is proposed, said that, once the city knew the golf course would be closed and something would happen there, she was glad that Mr. Rzepka, who owns the property, came to talk with the city.
“I am comfortable with this proposal,” Mrs. Meany said. “It fills a need in the city plus the 150 acres will remain green space.”
Mrs. Meany said legally things need done to make sure it is protected but she looks forward to continuing to working with the residents of Ward 5 on this project as well as all the parties involved.
Mr. Frankland said there are two processes by which a zone change can happen. One is a more “cooperative one” such as the Hawthorn plan and involve planning commission and City Council approval. The other, initiative petition, can bypass that approval and “I would characterize it as a less friendly process.”
Mr. Frankland said this proposal also includes a development agreement with the city which more clearly establishes who is responsible for service and what types of amenities are offered, items beyond just setbacks and building heights.