Zoning change proposed for Highland school property

by Melissa Martin

May 26 planning commission meeting

Brecksville voters probably will have the final say as to how the Highland Drive Elementary School property will be developed once the school is permanently closed this fall.

Mayor Jerry Hruby said on May 26 the planning commission expects to draft legislation for city council approval that would rezone the 21-acre property from community facilities to R-20 residential in order to make the land more harmonious with the property surrounding it.

Hruby said the school district approached the city a few years ago once it realized the district’s three elementary schools – Hilton, Highland Drive and Chippewa  – would close following the construction of a new consolidated elementary school.

According to Hruby, the district asked the city to market the Chippewa and Highland Drive elementary school properties because the district is required under state law to auction off the properties, valued at $1.1 to $1.4 million each, to the highest bidder.

“Their concern was that they would not be getting a fair market value for the properties,” Hruby said. “They are not unusual, but to the average person they are unusual because you have structures on there that have to be removed or repurposed. … “Any money over [asking price], up to $250,000, will go into a fund to help fund the new elementary school operations. Anything over that will be split between the city and the school district,” Hruby said. “We don’t anticipate that will happen, though it possibly could, but I think the chances are fewer now given the state of the economy.”

The Chippewa property already is zoned residential, so the question is whether Highland should be similarly zoned.

“Everything around that, including Chapel Hill, is all residential,” Hruby said. “The thought was that we would bring it to the planning commission to host a public hearing and ask for its recommendation as to whether they believe this land should be rezoned.”

The recommendation would be that the Highland Drive land be rezoned R-20, which would enable 20 to 24 homes to be constructed on the site, Hruby said. Once the recommendation is made, the city agrees to place the matter on the November ballot. A 55 percent majority is required for approval.

“Before November, however, we might have a sale of the property,” Hruby said. “As part of the advertisement, we will indicate there is an issue on the ballot that could affect the property’s zoning to make it residential.”

Hruby said advertising the city’s intentions will allow potential purchasers to opt out before purchasing the land.

The school district, Hruby said, has no objection as to how the city markets the property.

“The superintendent believes it is a good course of action because [the property] will then fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, so to speak, and there is no concern as to what else may be placed on that property,” he said.

To give the community an idea what could happen with the site, Hruby said some former school buildings have been turned into nature centers in some districts. As the Cleveland Metroparks is an abutting property owner on the school’s south side, he said, the park district could potentially purchase the site.

Cleveland Metroparks has not expressed an interest in purchasing the site, however, Hruby said, adding that a high-pressure gas line runs through the site and will limit the potential use of the property. Equally problematic, is that the property’s wooded frontage is very wet and could be designated as a wetland by the U.S. Army Corps Engineers, which would render that portion of the land undevelopable.

Following a brief public hearing, planning commission members indicated they were in support of efforts to rezone the Highland Drive property.

Commission Member Michael Bandsuh said he was interested in taking steps to preserve the baseball field on the site.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to see the surrounding residents inconvenienced, which means the fields would remain as they are with no lighting,” he said, noting that he favored R-20 zoning. “But if there’s any way to keep that field, I’m all for it.”

The commission was expected to make a recommendation to council on the matter at its June 9 meeting. ∞