Pepper Pike Issue 34 is on the Nov. 3 ballot. That’s the official word as of late this week.

Confusion has surrounded this issue for several weeks since Bryan Stone, principal of Axiom Development Group, announced on Sept. 25 that his company was backing out of the anticipated purchase of 68 acres owned by the behavior health agency Beech Brook.

His announcement implied that the zoning issue would be taken off the ballot. But the silence and inaction that followed made residents, who vehemently opposed Mr. Stone’s vision for the property, highly suspicious.

Their instincts were right on target.

Mr. Stone initially had big plans for the sprawling green space. He wanted to build an exclusive walkable town within the city with boutiques, eateries, upscale housing, offices and more.

The first step to pursuing this development was rezoning the Beech Brook land as well as some surrounding parcels. Rezoning only comes with voter approval.

There are two ways to get to the ballot – through City Council or going after an initiative petition. Mr. Stone started to work with the mayor and council, but as residents began questioning the proposal, he pursued the initiative petition.

That was a shock to everyone.

He hired an outside firm to collect the required signatures and got the issue on the ballot. So, City Council was out of the way temporarily, but not the voters. Axiom still needed them to get the land rezoned. The ballot issue calls for changing the zoning of land near Chagrin Boulevard and Lander Road from the current U-2 public building district and other parcels from the U-3 office building district to the new mixed-use Willey Creek overlay district. Overlay means the land would retain its current zoning until City Council approves a new development plan.

Mr. Stone held remote public information sessions as he attempted to sway public opinion. But as Election Day neared, city leaders spoke out against the rezoning, with some urging residents to vote no. There was talk among city officials of keeping land green, preventing traffic, questioning the need for more shops in light of empty storefronts in neighboring communities and disturbing the character of the quiet suburban community.

And then without warning, Mr. Stone announced the land deal was off.

Beech Brook CEO Tom Royer has said all along that his agency wants to sell the land and use the money to shore up the foundation. Though the agency has been in Pepper Pike since 1925, adapting its services to children over the years, the board of directors determined that it is time to consolidate its operation at another location.

Mr. Royer was clear that Beech Brook wants to sell the land and that rezoning will help the agency reach that goal.

But Beech Brook did not seek the initiative petition and has no legal ability to keep or push Issue 34 off the ballot.That power remains with the petition committee – Mr. Stone and Pepper Pike resident Jeffrey Glueck. Mr. Stone said he would do whatever Beech Brook officials want with Issue 34.

Though Mr. Stone insists his project is dead, we, like many residents, are skeptical. Are residents being hoodwinked into believing the issue is dead when it really is not? Is this another unanticipated move that could end with Mr. Stone surprising us once again by reviving his plans and coming back into the picture after the vote?

There is a definite loss of trust. Once rezoning is approved, residents lose their voice in the future use of this land. With so many unknowns and unanswered questions, the people of Pepper Pike have no other choice than to vote no on Issue 34.

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