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Could West Creek provide model, support for Oakwood preservation?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/25/11 @ 11:19am

"They act like green space is a dirty word," the woman sitting next to me at the FutureHeights land use and development forum said. She and a group of citizens are frustrated that elected officials at the cities of S. Euclid and Cleveland Heights do not see how protecting open space (at the former Oakwood Country Club) has equivalent (or more) value to new retail. Especially in Cuyahoga County, which the County Planning Commission concluded in 2000, is already saturated with stores.

Severance Neighborhood Organization leader Fran Mentch posted a blog last week that looks at the Primary Market Analysis for a big box development at Oakwood. She finds the assumptions for more retail to be shaky: That a 1-mile circle drawn around Oakwood shows 'retail leakages'- calling for more home furnishings, specialty food, tire, shoe, a book and a department store. With Severance Town Center and the Target/Whole Foods/Macy's cedar center area just outside this 1-mile circle, Mentch says, it just doesn't make sense to put more duplicative services here. The group wants more time to raise funds so that the entire property could be preserved as a park.

A model for Oakwood-and perhaps technical assistance-could come from the West Creek Preservation Committee, which has been changing minds in Parma and Seven Hills around converting open space into natural areas and recreational trails for the last 10 years (eventually ceding management over to the Metroparks).

The success of West Creek has the chance to spread. The group, with support from Gund Foundation, is pursuing what it would take to form the Greater Cleveland Urban Land Conservancy program. They plan to develop a strategy-perhaps using conservation easements-that protects "high priority properties that were considered important to greenspace conservation, trail linkages, park expansions, water resource protection and historical preservation."

"With so many vacant and/or otherwise available lands, we have the opportunity, with all the partners of Re-Imagining Cleveland, to revise the actual framework of our region. Sustainable and prosperous neighborhoods can be designed or re-designed around greenspace, parks, trails, and other forms of productive land management (such as urban agriculture, green energy generation, and recreational amenities) by revitalizing vacant lands, removing blight, and engaging the local community."

West Creek is already using conservation easements to protect and link green space to form a major network of recreation trails and surrounding natural area. The picture in this post is of the former property of Emma Lee Spring of Seven Hills who protected the woods and open space adjacent to her home in Seven Hills by donating a conservation easement to WCPC. This 9-acre easement ensures that this special land will never be built nor bulldozed, but rather will be permanently managed as a conservation area. Located along the West Creek Greenway, the easement also allows for the future extension of the West Creek Trail.

South Euclid Councilwoman Jane Goodman, meanwhile, argues that development and green infrastructure can co-exist at Oakwood. In her comment posted to Sustainable Heights' site, she says the proposed Oakwood development is environmentally sensitive and will keep more dollars from 'leaking' to other far-flung places.

Oakwood Commons could be the next initiative in our city's ongoing leadership in green and sustainability initiatives. Remember, South Euclid was the first Northeast Ohio community to write rainbarrels, rain gardens and permeable pavement into our building codes, the first to pass legislation prohibiting idling of vehicles, and the first to convert a barren retention basin into a lush, healthy wetland that is host to robust new wildlife populations.

This project offers the opportunity to have both a huge amount of greenspace and healthy watershed restored from its presently degraded condition (almost half of the entire acreage would be greenspace) and for the first time open to the public, and to provide commercial revenue our city desperately needs.

Here's a chance to concentrate commercial activity in range of short bike, walk or car trips in a densely populated area-anti-sprawl, if you will. It's what planners have been recommending to us and other inner ring suburbs for years, what Cleveland Heights has been promoting as the attraction for its own community, and now we have a chance to provide these amenities in the most distressed section of our community.

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