The Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland appealed a decision from the Pepper Pike Planning and Zoning Commission, which granted a use variance for housing for people with disabilities but included restrictions on the location. City Council will hear the appeal at the Oct. 20 meeting.

On Aug. 2, the planning commission approved a use variance to extend a nonconforming use. Permanent housing is not permitted on properties zoned U-2 for public buildings. The sisters’ land is zoned U-2, however, they have a lawful nonconforming use and the sisters live at Merici Crossings. The sisters asked to extend that lawful nonconforming use so Medina Creative Housing could build 25 dwelling units for adults with disabilities.

The sisters entered into a 99-year lease with Medina Creative Housing for 3 acres at a cost of $450,000. The planning commission approved the variance, but there were several conditions not in the original request. One of the conditions lists the setback requirements that the houses must conform to, and they are not permitted on the 3 acres that Medina Creative Housing leased. The sisters appealed because the conditions restrict the project, according to Sister Ritamary Welsh, president of the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland.

“We are concerned about conditions placed on the variance approval that would make it very difficult to complete this project as envisioned, and also would significantly limit our options for the future,” she said in a statement to the Times on Monday. “Given the community’s support for the project, and the need for this type of housing in Pepper Pike, the sisters are appealing to City Council in the hope that these concerns can be addressed.”

Medina Creative Housing proposed building 25 dwelling units in 10 buildings on the 3-acre parcel, with one building as a community center for the people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who would live on the property. The sisters have said that this type of housing fulfills a need in the community, and they are following their mission by working with an underserved population. The sisters have also stated interest in developing more of their 42-acre property but have no other definite plans at this time.

Mayor Richard Bain said that Medina Creative Housing was the original applicant for the use variance and the sisters later joined as a co-applicant.

“Under the code, an appellant has the right to take an appeal from the planning commission to council and under the code make legal arguments regarding the decision of the planning commission,” city Law Director Steve Byron said at the Aug. 25 council meeting. “The legal arguments are supposed to be based upon the factual record that was placed before the planning commission. Council doesn’t have to hold a hearing to take additional evidence.”

Council members have an option to see a written argument as not to rely on verbal rebuttal, he said. They can review the brief prior to the meeting, which is slated for Oct. 20.

“Thank you for your consideration of this,” said John Slagter of Tucker Ellis, legal counsel for the Ursuline sisters. “We appreciate the opportunity for council to hear the concerns that we have raised. We appreciate the time that your planning commission put into their decision, including approving the use. Our main concerns are some of the conditions that were attached to it.”

Mr. Slagter submitted a letter informing the city of the appeal on Aug. 11.

In response to a question from Councilman Jim Juliano, Mr. Byron confirmed that there will be no new witnesses and no new information. In prior public hearings and council meetings, residents have offered many comments on the proposed project. Some city residents have been in favor of the housing for disabilities, while others stated concerns with traffic, noise, safety, density, aesthetics and more, especially neighbors along Fairmount Boulevard and Windy Hill Drive.

“The sisters are committed to working with the city to make sure its property is used in alignment with its mission and the needs of the community,” Sister Welsh said in a statement. “We look forward to working with members of city council and the city to determine the best way to move forward with this important project.”

City officials have not decided yet if the Oct. 20 meeting will be held on Zoom or in person at City Hall.

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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