Plans for Lakefront don’t mesh with lofty principles
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, December 2004) Many west side residents attending the unveiling of the final draft of the City of Cleveland’s Lakefront Plan felt their future access and enjoyment of the lakefront was being compromised to provide land to developers for new housing.
The Cleveland City Planning Department presented its final draft of its lakefront plan at a November 10 th meeting at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School. The plan, two and a half years in the making, received mixed reviews from the 200 people at the meeting. Many felt the plan already violates the principles it set to guide the planning process. A map of the plan can be viewed at the City Planning Department’s website.
Paul Volpe, a local architect and a member of the panel invited by Planning Director Chris Ronayne to defend the plan, said the plan evolved around a five point agenda: sustainability, water related improvements, access and connections to the water front, parks and open space, and neighborhood development.
The plan calls for the West Shoreway to be reconfigured as a 35 mile per hour boulevard with grade level crossings at six intersections: Clifton/Lake, W. 73 rd, W. 65 th; W. 43 rd and W. 28 th.
Volpe noted that the Shoreway Boulevard would retain a six-lane configuration in response to Ohio Department of Transportation roadway modeling. Volpe says the four-lane idea put forth in previous drafts of the lakefront plan will not work. He said during non-rush hour times and on weekends the curb lanes could be used for parking. He said the new boulevard would offer a “slight delay for commuter traffic, but will operate fluidly and efficiently.”
Ronayne likened the boulevard to an extension of Lake Avenue or Clifton Boulevard running toward downtown. He said the lakefront plan aims to create an eight mile connected park system along the lake with 500 acres of new public space. The plan calls for creating additional housing units to create revenue to help make sure the new park space is well maintained.
While the lakefront plan represents a fifty-year vision for the future of the lakefront, noted Ronayne, the city is already benefiting from increased attention to the lakefront. He cited the new Battery Park development now underway in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, the rehabilitation of the W. 49 th Street Bridge, new housing development on W. 54 th and Herman and new townhouses on W. 28 th.
The planners used lofty language, talking about “sustainability” and the “reuse and maintenance of existing infrastructure.” Volpe promised, “We won’t have to build miles of new road.” There was also a promise to recycle old buildings. Volpe says the plan “supports and realizes the benefit of mixed use development.”
Concerning access to the lake, planners promised a balance of “economics and recreational use.” They promised to prioritize public accessibility and plans to improve water quality. They promised that under the plan roads, bridges, and public infrastructure are optimized as investments and would be well maintained.
Volpe called for leveraging investments to make Cleveland grow as a city and as a place to live and work. He said the plan would assure that “ Cleveland remains a place to be educated, and to have children.” The goal of the plan, said Volpe, was to make sure more people moved into the city and less moved out. The plan would maximize property values.
While the plan calls for Cleveland to be a place for educating children, it makes no provision to reimburse the school system for the 15-year tax abatements proposed for the thousands of housing units in the plan. While the city of Cleveland stands to benefit with a 2% payroll tax on the incomes of new residents, the financially strapped school system - which just cut $100 million from its budget and saw a property tax levy go down to defeat - stands to gain nothing from the proposed development for fifteen years while it tries to educate another generation of children.
Despite planners’ lofty language, the largest development along the lakefront currently underway seems to be violating the spirit of this lakefront plan. The Battery Park development of the 11.5-acre site of the former Eveready Battery plant between W. 73 and W. 76 on the bluff overlooking Lake Erie seeks to take an existing business. Plans call for Team Environmental on W. 74 th to be taken by eminent domain to extend the narrow W. 74 th through to the development. This new road is planned despite the existing extension of W. 74 th already in front of the building. It is planned despite the existing businesses estimated payroll of $300,000 to $400,000 per year, plus full property tax payment and business income tax payments. How can two 15-year tax-abated parcels possibly generate this kind of revenue for the city? What happened to the principle of sustainability? What happened to reusing existing infrastructure? What happened to recycling old buildings? What happened to the benefits of mixed-use development?
Keeping the existing business next to Battery Park would meet all the goals of the planning team. It would keep an active business in the neighborhood to have eyes on the street during the day when commuters in the new development are at work. The employees of the business would help to sustain the nearby Snickers Restaurant and a proposed new restaurant in the tower at Battery Park. The business and its employees would generate far more revenue than the roadway and new housing proposed for the two-parcel site. Keeping the business and the existing infrastructure would allow the business room for planned expansion, amenities planned for the neighborhood block club, and forego the cost of building an unnecessary extension of W. 74 th Street. (See related article.) It would also respect the private property rights of an existing tax-paying business.
This is just one area of the Battery Park plan that needs to be revisited in light of the philosophy of the lakefront planning team.
The other area involves the pedestrian tunnel that goes from W. 76 th to Edgewater Park. At a November 9 th meeting at Our Lady of Mt Carmel, city officials cited the expense of the upkeep and lighting of the tunnel as a reason it was not open for residents to walk through to Edgewater Park. Residents of the neighborhood had hoped the city of Cleveland would make the tunnel and their access to the lake a priority. City officials seemed to imply that it would be too expensive to dig around the tunnel a shore it up so it won’t leak. It was suggested that the access to the lake for residents in the future may have to be via a new intersection at W. 73 rd.
Speaking to planners on November 10 th, Jim Cutrone, co-chair of the W. 76 th Street Area Block Club, appealed to save the tunnel. He noted the historical nature of the tunnel and the emotional attachment of residents to this bit of their neighborhood history used for many years by neighborhood residents.
Cutrone has noted at other meetings as well that “it doesn’t make sense not to take care of this tunnel. It is such an asset to the neighborhood and will be an asset for the new residents as well.”
Ronayne promised Cutrone, “The city team will walk the W. 76 th Street area with members of the block club and the councilman.” He urged Cutrone to call city hall to arrange the tour.
Ohio City resident Bill Merriman pointed out another area on the west side where the proposed plan seems to violate its own principles. Merriman complained that the plan called for building two Shoreway access ramps through the green space just west of the Bop Stop on Detroit Avenue. The plan also calls for 60 condos to face the green taking both ends of the park. Merriman said, “The view of the lake and the sunset that residents now enjoy would be taken up by the port, warehouses, ships and cranes.”
“Our block club feels a sense of being let down,” said Merriman. He said they had been working with Ward 13 Councilman Joe Cimperman for several years with the expectation that the dog bone-shaped green space would be preserved as a park named for former neighborhood resident Jim Mahon. Merriman said under the lakefront plan the lake vistas enjoyed by Ohio City residents and businesses surrounding the park would be destroyed. “We’ve lost the lake entirely. There is no lakefront experience left,” said Merriman.
Merriman said City Planning Director Ronayne told him the reason part of the park had to become housing is that the Ohio Department of Transportation requires curb cuts and addresses along a boulevard. Merriman said this was not talked about during the planning process. “Nobody said that if you opt for a boulevard you would have to give up park space for housing” during the block club’s work with the officials, he said.
Merriman said he thought the primary goal of the planning process was to reconnect city residents with the lake. He noted that, other than the Edgewater neighborhood, the Ohio City neighborhood has the most intimate relationship with the lake. If the plan was to connect Ohio City residents to the lake, moving the port to Whiskey Island doesn’t make sense. If the goal is to enhance downtown housing and the tourism industry then the port move make sense. He said he feels “input from our neighborhood was severely neglected.” Merriman said he felt “betrayed by what is being done to Whiskey Island.” He believes too much influence over the planning process was exercised by the building industry, and the concerns of residents were not given equal weight.
Other area residents raised concerns about the proposed move of the port authority from downtown to Whiskey Island. Ohio City resident Mike Flickinger expressed concern about additional traffic generated by the port. He also noted that the Ohio City area had more green space before the plan than it would if the plan were implemented.
A resident of Tillman and W. 45 th complained that the Port Authority’s move would take up 2/3 of Whiskey Island and would be noisy and dirty. “The port authority was on the East side of the river when we moved in,” she noted.
The Tillman resident, a member of the NorthShore Block Club, also was critical of plans to make the W. 49 th Street ramp to be a pedestrian only ramp and closing Tillman at W. 45 th. She said the proposed changes would leave residents of the neighborhood only one way out westward. She also called for better routing of trucks. She said currently 18-wheelers exit on W. 49 th every seven or eight minutes – many of them having missed a turn downtown.
An environmentalist, bird watcher and advocate for greater lakefront access called on the city to reconsider plans to build a new marina on Whiskey Island. She said by building a marina on key lakefront land in the proposed Whiskey Island Park, the “park ceases to be a waterfront park. Putting in a marina loses the waterfront – takes away the whole north area of access and viewability.”
She also urged the city to slow down on its plans to move the port to Whiskey Island. She said the capacity of Whiskey Island to accommodate the port wasn’t known yet. She urged the city and port not to act too hastily until they know for sure that the move of the port can be made. She noted the trees and green on Whiskey Island took many decades to grow.
Ed Hauser, of Friends of Whiskey Island, noted his organization collected 3,500 signatures urging that all 20 acres of Whiskey Island promised as a public park be preserved as a public park and greenspace. He said the huge scale marina in the plans for the site violated this greenspace.
Hauser also complained of plans by the city of Cleveland and the Port Authority’s to move the port to Whiskey Island. He described their attitude as, “we are going to take Whiskey Island, we know what is best for you.” Hauser said he believes the current Whiskey Island marina should be kept and all 20 acres of green space be preserved as a park. Hauser presented a plan from the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission for the park calling for ecological restoration, various recreational uses, and preservation of the unique history and legends associated with Whiskey Island. The county’s plan can be viewed here.
As part of the lakefront plan, the city and the Port Authority plan to abandon existing port infrastructure downtown in order to build new upscale housing, docks for small boats and recreational activities downtown as an extension of the warehouse district. Costs of moving the port to Whiskey Island is estimated to be upwards of a half billion dollars.
Bill Denihan, President of the Edgewater’s Homeowners Association, wondered whether the Ohio Department of Natural Resources had bought into the plan to expand lakefront parkland. He expressed concern that without their assistance maintenance of the parkland could be a problem. He questioned the State of Ohio’s ability to maintain the parkland and called for involvement of the Metroparks. Denihan also proposed closing the railroad line from Collinwood yards to Berea. He said such a closure would remove another barrier to the lakefront and create thousands of acres for development. Speaking of the rail line he said, “We won’t have access to the lake until we remove this barrier.”
Another Edgewater resident complained that the plan to create a boulevard out of the Shoreway ignored the concerns of commuters. She urged the city to leave the Shoreway as it is and create connections to the lake with bridges and tunnels. She said with grade-separated access residents could cross to the lake at any time. She said the plan to allow parked cars on the boulevard was not pedestrian-friendly and would be dangerous. The resident said the goal of access to the lake could be provided at less cost while still maintaining the existing Shoreway and its superior access to downtown and the East Side of Cleveland.
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