After months of reluctant deliberation, Developer Lance Osborne apparently decided to go along with Council’s version of the GetGo related zoning issue that residents will vote on in November.
In exchange, Osborne is hoping to get the city’s official stamp of approval on a development agreement for his proposed mega GetGo development.
From the start, Osborne’s development proposal had the city’s elected leaders wrestling with conflicting political realities.
While Mayor Scott Coleman and Council are committed to supporting business development in the city, they are also legally required to uphold the city’s zoning laws (which place a premium on protecting and preserving residential neighborhoods).
In addition – as the Bass Energy drilling brouhaha recently reminded them – their primary job is to serve and represent Highland Heights residents, not developers or business outsiders.
Council has approached the issue cautiously, aware that residents are divided about Osborne’s plan to install a mega GetGo on the former Catalano’s grocery store property.
For the same reason, Osborne has been anxious to get the city’s official stamp of approval for his plan. He apparently thought that he had it, based on his preliminary discussions with the mayor and the Planning & Zoning Commission last year. He discovered, however, that Council was not such an easy sell.
Council accepted the mayor’s suggestion of using a development agreement to address issues and concerns raised by residents. The agreement will spell out specific details of the proposed development, including signage, lighting and design details. At the same time, Council insisted that the necessary ballot issue be Charter compliant, i.e. that it be a property rezoning issue that requires both citywide and Ward 4 approval.
That’s a pretty high hurdle – one that Osborne clearly wanted to avoid.
He tried to bypass Council last fall by sponsoring a petition drive to put a different issue on the ballot – one that sought to change (and, in my opinion, essentially gut) the city’s zoning code and would require only citywide approval.
After Law Director Tim Paluf ruled that his petition issue was legally flawed, Osborne began an intense lobbying campaign, trying to convince and/or pressure Council members to put his desired zoning issue on the ballot.
Council and Osborne became engaged in a staring contest. Osborne blinked first – maybe. As always, the devil is in the details.
At the May 1 Committee of the Whole meeting, Osborne told Council,
“We are in agreement with the concept of (Council’s proposed zoning) ordinance. Our attorney has some comments that I don’t see to be significant. He will make it conform with the proposed develop agreement.”
He also told Council,
“We respectfully ask Council to approve the rezoning ordinance in advance of the development agreement being hammered out.”
One could interpret what Osborne told Council as meaning:
“I am now 100% ready to cooperate and play ball your way.”
Given his track record, however, a more accurate interpretation might eventually prove to be:
“Although I am telling you that I will go along with your version of the zoning issue, I am putting you on notice that my legal counsel is going to change it to my advantage – and, oh by the way, we want you to give up all your negotiating leverage by voting to put the zoning issue on the ballot immediately, before we’ve hammered out the final details of the development agreement."
By law, Council has until early August to get the zoning issue on the ballot, so there’s absolutely no need for Council to rush to approve the ballot language.
Council President Cathy Murphy told Osborne,
“I think given what you said, I’m definitely inclined to putting a zoning issue on for you and working with you. The stumbling block was to re-characterize the issue as what it is — a rezoning issue. Through the development agreement the city has a unique opportunity; it can address issues of concern proactively in the development plan. That’s another reason why we look to put it on (a rezoning issue on the ballot) for them. In reality they (Osborne and Giant Eagle) could have gone their own way, but they’ve chosen to work with us. I think we should likewise work with them and put the best possible proposal out there for our residents.”
Next up: Osborne will appear before the Planning & Zoning Commission on May 14 to discuss splitting the Catalano’s property into 2 separate “permanent parcels,” a necessary precursor to possibly rezoning the front portion to allow a mega GetGo gas station and café to be installed there.
P&Z meetings are held at 8 p.m. at City Hall and are open to the public.
THE CITY’S OTHER REZONING ISSUE
While the mega GetGo zoning issue has taken center stage, residents are likely to see a second rezoning issue on the November ballot as well.
The owner of Highland Medical Center on Brainard Road (across from Catalano’s) wants to expand his undersized parking lot. He owns the undeveloped lot next door, but in order to use it for parking, the zoning classification for the property needs to be changed (it is currently rezoned for residential use.)
That’s where Council comes in. Voters must approve any zoning change.
Council can put a rezoning issue on the ballot for the property owner, but first it has to reach consensus on the new zoning classification. Automobile Parking and Office Building are both possibilities, but they have different variance requirements and offer different possibilities for future expansion.
Since homes surround the medical center, Council’s rezoning decision is an important one.
You’d expect that someone seeking Council’s help with a zoning issue would be courteous and somewhat deferential when appearing before Council. Developer Lance Osborne has always behaved appropriately, even while firmly standing his ground.
Not so the medical center property owner. He was aggressive and rude and repeatedly interrupted Council President Cathy Murphy during last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
The property owner’s main beef seemed to be that everything was taking too long. He bristled at the idea that Council needed time to decide the best zoning classification for his property. He told Council,
“At the recommendation of Councilman (and P&Z member) Bob Mastrangelo, the office building classification has the least impact on everyone. I have gone along with his recommendation. His recommendation at the time was not to be on ballot in November (2011). I was ready. I’ve done everything I could possibly do. I don’t think it’s appropriate that I have to wait again. It’s an unfair impact on people trying to be tried and true to this community.”
Reality check time.
Reality Check One: Council has until early August to put rezoning issues on the ballot, and even if Council rushed to approve a rezoning issue for the medical building owner this week, it still wouldn’t appear on the ballot until November.
Reality Check Two: The property owner discussed his parking lot plan with Council for the first time last summer. He then withdrew his rezoning request almost immediately – before Council had a chance to reach consensus on the proper zoning classification for his property.
Council has not delayed in getting a rezoning issue put on the ballot for the property owner, and it is quite reasonable (and necessary) for Council to thoroughly study all of the options before deciding the best zoning classification for the property. There is nothing “unfair” about it.
Interestingly, although the property owner claimed that he had taken care of the drainage issues (parking lots cause a lot of water runoff), engineer Brian Mader told Council that he had yet to see – let alone approve – a drainage plan for the proposed parking lot expansion.
So apparently, even after a year’s delay, the property owner still doesn’t have all his ducks in a row.
The frustrated property owner was invited to return to the May 15 Committee of the Whole meeting for further discussion of his rezoning request. With any luck he’ll bring his manners with him this time.
BASS ENERGY SETTLEMENT
At a special meeting last week Council listened to a first reading of proposed Resolution 21-2012, which authorizes Mayor Coleman to sign a settlement agreement with Bass Energy.
Pursuant to the resolution, the city will pay Bass $600,000 and, in exchange, Bass will drop its breach of contract claim against the city.
Council President Cathy Murphy has indicated that Council may suspend the third reading and vote on the resolution during this week’s Council meeting.
As always, interested residents will be given an opportunity to address Council during the public speaking portion of that meeting.