City considers rezoning Central, Highland school properties

by Melissa Martin

April 21 planning commission meeting

Brecksville City Council and the city’s administration have asked members of the city’s planning commission to weigh in on the future of two school properties that will soon be placed on the market for redevelopment.

Mayor Jerry Hruby requested that the commission consider zoning changes for the Central School and Highland Elementary School properties to ensure that any redevelopment proposals will be harmonious with the neighborhoods surrounding them.

The planning commission has agreed to host public hearings for both school sites on Thursday, May 26. The hearing for Highland Elementary will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be followed by the hearing for Central School at 7 p.m.

Hruby told the commission the school district has entered into an agreement with the city to act as its point-of-sale contact for the upcoming sale of the Highland and Chippewa elementary school properties, both of which will be placed on the market in August upon the completion of the district’s new consolidated elementary school. The goal, school board members have indicated, is to make sure any plans for the former school sites are amenable to both the city and its residents.

The city obtained the 14-acre Central School property from the school district in 2018 in exchange for 25 acres of the municipally owned Blossom Hill property on Oakes Road, where the new elementary school is being built. Hruby said the city intends to put it back on the market later this summer. Before that happens, however, Hruby said the city is looking to rezone the land in an attempt to have more control over what will be constructed once the land is sold.

To date, Hruby said developers and residents have recommended a variety of uses for the Central School site. The proposals have called for everything from recreation and green space, to parking lots and the possible extension of Public Square. Others have called for condominiums and the addition of more shopping and retail along state Route 82. Because there has never been a resounding consensus amongst the community in support of one plan, however, Hruby said the city has rejected all plans proposed for the site and retains possession of the property.

“For a few years now, we have been dealing with this property and have had many public hearings,” he said. “There has been a lot of input, but nothing definitive that seems to be coming back as an overwhelming ‘let’s do this.’”

The hangup, Hruby said, is that residents who live nearby believe the site should remain residential, making it harmonious with the Old Town surrounding it. Alternatively, others contend the property should be used for additional retail space, which the city is currently lacking.

“The city does not have much retail space left that is not already developed,” Hruby said. “We have parcels and property where there is local business that isn’t being utilized to the fullest extent, such as next to the municipal lot and those along Mill Road. Those could be and probably should be refurbished at some time to become additional retail in our downtown. But other than that, this is the piece.”

To satisfy both demands, Hruby said council has asked the planning commission to consider a zoning change from CF, community facilities, to R-8A zoning with LB zoning as a conditional use. Doing so would allow the city to retain a residential buffer to preserve the city’s residential historic district while allowing for retail.

“The purpose of this kind of layered zoning gives flexibility to the property, but at the same time [preserves] the residential character of Old Town, he said.

The same is true for the Highland Elementary School property, where the city is looking to change the zoning from CF community facilities to R-20 single-family residential in an effort to ensure the land is harmonious with its surrounding neighborhood and allows the school district to yield the highest return upon the sale of the property.

“This is an opportunity for the city and its residents to become proactive to see the development of [these properties],” Hruby said.

Councilman Brian Stucky, who serves as council’s representative to the planning commission, said he approves of the city’s proposal to rezone the Central School property to R-8A zoning along Arlington Road.

“Obviously I would have loved to keep the [school] building,” Stucky said. “It’s a beautiful building. It’s old. I was hoping that someone would come in with a great idea to renovate it but that’s not going to happen and so we really need to move on in having a layered approach here.”

Should the planning commission and city council decide to move forward with the rezoning of both parcels, the residents will ultimately decide on the rezoning at the polls. Hruby said the city is hoping to place both rezoning issues on the November ballot.

Hruby said the city’s primary concern, particularly with regard to Central School, is that a developer could purchase the property and present a project the city does not approve of before the land is rezoned.

“In that case, we might not approve of [the project] but we also couldn’t stop it because the land would be zoned appropriately for the proposal,” he added.

For that reason, planning commission members say they don’t see a downside to either rezoning proposal.

“When you have a piece of property like these, it has to be a win-win for both the developer and the city or else it doesn’t get done,” said Ronald Payto, planning commission member. “Giving it the conditional use for local business gives the developer some flexibility which might be an advantage to the developer. At the same time, it doesn’t restrict us in that we still retain the right to control and ultimately reject the projects if we need to.” ∞