New legislation allows creation of Entertainment Overlay Districts
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, August 2007) Changes made by City Council in Cleveland’s zoning law to accommodate development in the Flats could spell trouble for residents battling nightclubs adjoining residential neighborhoods.

A new Entertainment Overlay District is now part of the City’s Zoning Code. Among other things, the legislation allows for new districts to be created to overlay existing General Retail Business Districts and Industrial Districts. The new district would allow everything the old district allowed, plus it would waive the current zoning requirement that requires uses such as nightclubs be located a prescribed distance from churches, parks, schools and residential areas.


On July 11th the City Planning Committee of Cleveland City Council met as a Committee of the Whole (the entire City Council was invited) in order to consider legislation that included changes in the city zoning law that would allow the creation of an Entertainment Overlay District. The legislation was designed to allow the Hustler Club to move from its present Flats’ East Bank location (on property that developer Scott Wolstein’s plans to develop)  to a new Entertainment Overlay District that City Council plans to map out in an additional piece of legislation. The site for the new district is planned to be across the Center Street Bridge from the Stonebridge Development on the West Bank of the Flats.

Despite strong objections from residents of the Stonebridge Development, City Council passed the enabling legislation allowing for the changes in the zoning code to create the new Entertainment Overlay District. Council plans to create the boundaries for the new district in August legislation.

Ward 13 Councilman Joe Cimperman, in whose ward both Stonebridge and the proposed East Bank development are located, urged his colleagues to create the new Entertainment Overlay District. He noted that City Council had already unanimously passed 189 separate pieces of legislation in support of the East Bank Development project.

Ward 18 Councilman Jay Westbrook cautioned his colleagues when considering the legislation “to make sure, that when fixing one problem we are not creating others.”

Ken Silliman, Mayor Frank Jackson’s Chief of Staff, and Robert Brown, Director of the City Planning Commission, presented arguments for the new zone for the Jackson administration.

Silliman said it was better to use zoning law to create such a district rather than trying to move the Hustler club and ask for a variance in existing zoning law to allow the club to operate in the new entertainment district along with an existing adult entertainment facility grandfathered into that location. He said if the Board of Zoning Appeals were to grant a variance to allow the club within 1,000 feet of residential area, then other businesses would line up for the same exemption. He said that even if BOZA were to deny the variance, an appeal could result in BOZA’s decision being overruled. By passing legislation, Silliman noted, each new district would have to “come before this body” (Cleveland City Council). He said courts have much more deference to legislation than they do to administrative rulings such as that of BOZA.

Ward 11 Councilman Michael Polensek asked the all-important question, “What prevents other areas of the city from being contemplated and considered for Entertainment Districts?”  The response from the administration representatives was “The Jackson Administration supports only the mapping of one district in the Flats. We do not support the mapping of any other districts.”

However, this is little solace to residents of Stonebridge or other neighborhoods in Cleveland. Any councilperson could propose such a district at the bequest of club owners or developers. Despite their misgivings, the City Council members present voted unanimously for the zoning change. They voted, as they always do, in support of the wishes of the councilman in whose district the project is located, in this case, Ward 13 Councilman Joe Cimperman.

The idea of changing the entire zoning code of the city to accommodate the needs of a developer and a strip club that insists on being in the Flats is absurd. It opens a can of worms that neighborhoods around the city will be dealing with for years to come.

The lack of will of any City Council member to stand up for the long term interest of the city, in light of the assurance that they could always veto such a zone in their ward, is an example of a major flaw in our system of representative government in Cleveland. When one ward councilman and the administration agree on legislation, no check and balance exists in City Council. In keeping the agreement with their colleagues to allow each councilperson to be absolute rulers in their own wards, Cleveland City Council members fail in their responsibility to be legislatures for the entire city.


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