Public Meetings vs. Private Interest

By Bruce Checefsky

In May 2021, the Cleveland Planning Commission held a special meeting without taking steps to notify the public and reporters.

The Commission discussed a proposed elevated park on the Shoreway, and railroad tracks to connect the downtown area and the lakefront.

The Haslam Sports Group is behind plans to include housing and commercial development around the FirstEnergy stadium. Ohio Sun Law Guidelines, available on the Attorney General Office’s website, state that public bodies must establish a reasonable method of alerting the public to the time and location of special meetings. The purpose is to give at least 24-hours notice to media outlets that have requested it.

The City of Cleveland Euclid Corridor Design Review Committee approved a conceptual design for a 57-unit, market-rate apartment development in the Hough neighborhood, despite the lack of advance notice to the public. Famicos Foundation, a nonprofit community development corporation, is the developer for the project.

Chester75, located on the northwest corner of Chester Avenue and E. 75th Street, reportedly received approval from the local design review committee with two abstentions. A search on the Cleveland Planning Commission’s YouTube channel did not find a record of the meeting.

The City Planning Commission sets the agenda for meetings of each design review advisory committee. They work with the local community development corporations to prepare applicants for the meeting. Public notice is required. Any person or organization is allowed time to express their opinions.

Lillian Kuri, an architect, and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Cleveland Foundation, was recently appointed new chairperson for the commission. Kuri is the first woman to serve as chair of the planning commission. She succeeds David Bowen, a principal of Richard L. Bowen & Associates, Inc., a Cleveland firm specializing in architecture, integrated engineering, and construction, over conflicts of interest with his role on the commission. Bowen served on the Cleveland City Planning Commission for 25 years.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” Kuri said in a recent cleveland.com article. “I want to work with the administration to set an agenda.”

Terry McNeil relocated to Ohio after spending more than 30 years in Miami, where he worked in the restaurant and entertainment industry, organizing music festivals and corporate shows. In 2015, he returned to Cleveland to clean out the family house where his grandparents lived on E. 84th Street between Wade Park and Superior Avenue. McNeil visited his grandparents’ home every weekend until moving to Miami. After cleaning the house, McNeil knew he had to live there.

“It was amazing,” he said. “This is a mansion. There is no way we could build this same house for less than half a million dollars today.”

Once he finished with the house, McNeil decided to clean up the neighborhood by cutting grass on nearby abandoned lots and pressuring the city to fix the streets. He even has a Facebook page called Fix Our Streets 216. When it comes to new construction in the neighborhood, he has mixed feelings.

“I have no problem with new development. I have a problem with the design. Most of the homes in Ward 7 are old Victorian-style architecture. You lose the identity of a neighborhood when you start building futuristic buildings,” McNeil said, referring to Park Lamont, the proposed apartment complex on E. 97th Street and Lamont Avenue.

“The planning commission and design review need to be more demanding. City council members need to work harder. When the financial incentives flash in front of their faces, they forget everything about who they are and where they come from.”