Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oakwood Commons – Final Post

This will be my final post on the situation at the former Oakwood Club. I began posting on this issue in January. You can review my posts here.

In summary, at first I was reactively opposed to any development at the former Oakwood Club. I thought the land should be a park. At that time, I did not know the full history there, including years of attempts by the owners to sell it, the inability of a local group to raise funds to purchase the land, the unwillingness of local municipalities or the Metroparks system to purchase it. One can call my initial response idealistic, or one can call it uninformed and naïve – one could even call it both!

Over time, as I studied the issue, I pondered several scenarios, including more housing (not likely in the short term, but possible in the longer term – disastrous for our area in any case), retail, non-retail commercial, senior housing, or a combination of the above. It seemed to me that a combination of retail and senior housing is, if not the best, then the least bad use of this land. Leaving it unused (as it is not accessible to non-Club members) in an unacceptable scenario.

I have already stated elsewhere that I am somewhat skeptical of putting more retail in an area with a declining population. Both sides of this debate have legitimate arguments. It’s certainly true the some existing retail might be harmed by the construction of this center. Niche retailers like Big Fun would probably be unaffected, but chain retailers like those at Severance might face some stiff competition. To those who oppose development on these grounds I say: competition is the American way, deal with it. I also find it interesting that there has been nary an objection to First-Interstate’s proposed use of the Cleveland Heights portion of the land, which is slated for mixed use senior housing/assisted living. The CH portion of the land is considerably larger than the SE portion. It gives the lie to those who state their opposition on environmental grounds.

I’m sure many who remember South Euclid and the surrounding area in the 1970s would love to return the area to the way it was back then: Whigam’s farm on Anderson Road, Connor’s Ice cream up Mayfield Road in Lyndhurst. But there was a dark side to our area then, which those with rose-tinted glasses have forgotten, like the time an African-American family in Lyndhurst was harassed to the point that they left the area.

Sadly, those opposed to this project have never tried to engage the developer in a constructive manner. Instead, they have made repeated attempts to demonize the developer, as they trotted out the same rumors and talking points and repeated them ad nauseum – on their own Facebook page, in the Sun Newspapers, and in the Heights Observer. As a result, they have found themselves described as a “somewhat fringe” group by the developer and without leverage with the city of South Euclid.

In March, Susan Miller contacted me to try and convince me to spearhead the push for a Community Benefits Agreement with First Interstate. CBAs are generally accomplished between a developer and those opposed to development – so I thought it was a bit strange that Ms. Miller had contacted me since I had already spoken in favor of Oakwood. She and other members of the Citizens for Oakwood group had burned their bridges to South Euclid and First Interstate (not that they had any to the latter), so it was obvious that Ms. Miller was feeling me out to see if I would do their bidding. (Disclosure: I met Ms. Miller when, in a moment of frustration with the foot-dragging of the Obama administration on several issues, I flirted with the Green Party in October of 2010. Looking back, I can only be baffled as to what I was thinking. Reactive decisions made in frustration are seldom the right ones.)

As stated above, there are legitimate arguments on both sides of this issue – actually, all sides as there are more than two sides here. But the bottom line for me is that I support private property rights. The right to own land and do what you want with it (subject to reasonable regulatory restrictions) is a hallmark of America’s economic system. That goes for a business person’s land as well as a private person’s land. To override that right requires, in my opinion, overwhelming evidence of harm to the community at large. The arguments of those in opposition to Oakwood Commons did not meet that burden. Fact is, at this point, the only way to guarantee that Oakwood would become a park would be for South Euclid and Cleveland Heights to both invoke eminent domain on the land – a move which neither city can afford, and which would almost certainly be defeated in court.

Emilie DiFranco of South Euclid Oversight has suggested putting the question of rezoning to a popular vote, and I would support that, with several caveats, including: any vote on rezoning the South Euclid portion of the land would be voted on by South Euclid residents only (Emilie told me she agrees with that); any ballot referendum must be worded in a neutral manner (no WHEREAS verbiage about parkland and the evils of big box retail) – accordingly, the verbiage must be clear about choices: residential and commercial, period.

As I stated before, this will be my final post on this matter. This blog was established as a place to post my reflections on culture (particularly music), politics, and life. The posts on Oakwood were exceptions to that, and what I have to show for it are anonymous comments that ran the gamut from irrational to threatening. Those comments, which I declined to publish, came from people on both sides of the issue but the more harassing ones were from those opposed to Oakwood Commons.

The time has come for me to refocus my blog along the parameters in which it was initially envisioned. Accordingly, my next post will be about pianist Arthur Rubinstein.

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