The four-meetings-a-year Highland Heights Economic Development Committee (EDC) has met three times since September to discuss Lance Osborne’s $8 million development proposal for the former Catalano’s grocery store property.
The centerpiece of that project: a mega Giant Eagle/GetGo gas station, which Osborne plans to install along Wilson Mills Road, near the Bishop/Brainard Road intersection.
Osborne faces a major obstacle: the Catalano’s property is zoned for "local business." Since gas stations aren’t a permitted use, the Get-Go can’t go in unless Highland Heights voters approve a zoning code change to allow it.
Osborne, who told the EDC that he’d like the GetGo to be operational within a year, seems to be looking to Council to carry the water for him after his own flawed and untimely initiative petition drive failed to get a zoning issue on the ballot last November.
Osborne told the EDC on Dec. 15 that a GetGo zoning issue could appear on the March 6, 2012 primary ballot if Council took appropriate action during its Jan. 3organizational meeting.
That explains the recent flurry of EDC meetings.
Supporters of Osborne’s mega GetGo development plan apparently hoped to obtain the EDC’s endorsement of the project by year’s end and then use it to pressure Council to take immediate action to push the project forward on Jan. 3.
Finance Director Anthony Ianiro, who heads the EDC, not only backed up Osborne’s primary ballot claim, he told EDC members:
"I encourage and suggest that you (the EDC members) come and that you speak to Council" on Jan. 3.
Mayor Scott Coleman expressed pessimism but didn’t throw water on the idea that Council could act on Jan. 3 to put a GetGo zoning issue on the March primary ballot:
"For March, an ordinance would have to be passed at the first (Council) meeting in January. I don’t see that as a practical thing. The whole concept of amending the zoning ordinance has not been discussed by council… The first Council meeting on Jan. 3 is more an organizational meeting. It’s possible that Council could discuss it if they are willing to do it…They know it’s pending. They have discussed meaty things at organizational meetings in the past. There’s precedent for doing that.”
Council could theoretically vote on Jan. 3 to put an ordinance amending the Highland Heights zoning code on the March 6 primary ballot, but it wouldn’t be legal.
Council would have to ignore state filing deadlines, city ordinances and the Highland Heights Charter to do that.
Council would have to present the new zoning ordinance for a first reading at a Jan. 3 special meeting (during which public comment is not allowed), immediately suspend two additional required readings of the ordinance, and then pass it the same night. Council would also have to include language instructing the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to put the ordinance on the March primary ballot – in violation of state filing deadlines.
- According to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections’ 2012 elections calendar, the filing deadline for getting "local issues" (such as a zoning ordinance) on the March 6, 2012 primary ballot expired several weeks ago, on Dec. 7. http://www.boe.cuyahogacounty.us/en-US/election-calendar.aspx
- Highland Heights law requires three separate readings before ordinances are adopted (117.01), it prohibits zoning measures from being passed as emergency measures (117.02), and it also mandates that Council provide 30 days notice and hold a public hearing prior to adopting any ordinance amending the city’s zoning code (1115.04). http://www.conwaygreene.com/Hlandhts.htm
- Highland Heights Charter 802.02 imposes a waiting period after zoning ordinances are approved, before they can be voted on. A 60-day waiting period applies to general elections (a primary is not a general election); otherwise a 90-day waiting period applies. http://www.conwaygreene.com/Hlandhts.htm
Osborne, Mayor Coleman, and Finance Director Tony Ianiro clearly misspoke when they told EDC members on Dec. 15 that Council could act on Jan. 3 to put a GetGo zoning issue on the March primary ballot. Council can’t do that – not legally, anyway.
While it is expected that developers might, on occasion, spin facts or present a version of reality that serves their own self-interest, it’s disappointing that, rather than setting the record straight, Mayor Coleman and Finance Director Ianiro not only backed up Osborne’s claim, but also “encourage(d) and suggest(ed)” to EDC members that they should come and pressure Council to do something on Jan. 3 which – as the mayor and finance director should know – Council is not legally authorized to do.
"We Are Not A Lifestyle City"
Although no formal vote was taken on Dec. 15, sevn of the 10 EDC members expressed support for Osborne’s mega GetGo project. (Maurice Helou abstained, Mayor Scott Coleman didn’t offer an opinion, and Scott Mills was absent).
Their endorsement might have more weight if the EDC’s review of the project hadn’t been so limited. Members pretty much just listened to Osborne, looked at his conceptual drawings and accepted, without significant discussion or analysis, Osborne’s claims regarding traffic impact ("no degradation" of the Wilson Mills/Bishop/Brainard intersection”), job creation (120 mostly part-time, minimum wage jobs) and new tax revenue (approximately $47,000).
Osborne again admitted on Dec. 15 that his traffic study was a "trip generation" traffic study, whose projections are based on (generic) use and the square footage of the proposed project. When asked by EDC member Helou whether it takes into account “the value of the (Giant Eagle/GetGo) brand and what it might draw in as far as customers,” Osborne replied, "No."
In other words Osborne’s traffic study didn’t consider the effect of Giant Eagle’s gas points program, which will funnel traffic to the Get-Go from surrounding communities. (Mayor Coleman seemingly confirmed this reality when he commented, "They (Giant Eagle) are desperately in need of a location in this corridor.")
Presumably the traffic study also didn’t consider traffic that will be diverted as a result of Giant Eagle’s installation of GetGo exit signs along I-90 and I-271.
Significantly, the EDC did not consider or discuss: 1) the negative impact (including job losses) that the mega Get-Go project could have on currently operating local businesses; 2) zoning issues; or 3) the impact that the proposed mega GetGo facility will have on residential neighborhoods and residential property values.
No matter. Most of the EDC members still enthusiastically support the project. Among their comments (and my thoughts on their comments):
"The project is above what I expected to see. Every day is a day without tax revenue." Michael DeStefano.
(He’s not quite right. Giant Eagle pays property tax on the $1+ million assessed value of the Catalano’s property each year. )
"I lived on Millridge. I remember Catalano’s at Christmastime. It was a mess. That’s the way it was. No one complained." Janet Schiciano.
(It’s interesting that, after having suffered through it herself, Schiciano so easily dismisses the effect that the GetGo – which will have far worse traffic than “Catalano’s at Christmastime” – will have on her former neighborhood.)
"We are not a lifestyle city." Dan Greve.
(So, what does that make us, a low-rent, shabby-town?)
I think Greve’s comment cuts to the heart of the GetGo issue.
Are we a "lifestyle city" – one that puts high quality residential life at the top of its priority list and is committed to preserving high residential property values, even during times of economic downturn? Or are we some other kind of city – a "non-lifestyle city" – one that is willing to support commercial development at all costs, no matter how it effects our residential neighborhoods?
Fortunately it is Highland Heights residents – not Lance Osborne, Giant Eagle, or the EDC – who will get to decide that question, once a GetGo zoning issue finally gets on the ballot.
It just won’t be in March.