Eminent domain, tree trimming to advance Brecksville Road project

by Laura Bednar

March 12 city council meeting

As part of its plan to widen and modify Brecksville Road from Rockside Road north to Rockside Woods North Boulevard, Independence City Council, by a 4-3 vote, allowed the city to take residential and commercial right-of-way property through eminent domain.

The legislation, which “declared an emergency,” states that right-of-way from 29 properties is needed to relocate utility poles and aerial lines to widen the street by 2 feet on both sides. Law Director Greg O’Brien hand-delivered notices of the city’s intent to acquire property on Feb. 16, requesting owners accept Independence’s purchase offer, which legislation said is consistent with fair market value.

Councilperson Dale Veverka said he was disappointed the property appraiser “used non-Independence properties for comparison to come up with the value of the easements.”

O’Brien said the appraiser asserted there were few properties in Independence that are an apples-to-apples comparison. He explained a home on a side street has a higher value than one along a main road.

Of the 29 properties, only 10 were listed in the legislation as refusing to accept the city’s purchase offer at the time.

During public participation, resident Daniel Sobotka stated his disapproval of the improvement project and the city taking property through eminent domain. “It’s what happens when you give developers the keys to the city by electing their representatives into city office,” he said. “[Council] is supposed to be in-between us and the developers, protecting us from the developers instead of facilitating.”

Councilpersons Chris Walchanowicz, Tom Narduzzi, Kevin Day and John DiGeronimo voted in favor and Veverka, Jim Trakas and Vice Mayor Anthony Togliatti voted against.

With the same 4-3 vote, council approved adding $66,350 to its annual citywide contract with Townsend Corporation to specifically trim and remove trees in connection with the Brecksville Road improvement project for a total of $126,350. According to legislation, this is required “to facilitate the utility relocation work” that is part of the improvement project. Togliatti asked if the contract should have been publicly bid.

Said O’Brien, “Yes, it should be publicly bid unless the majority of council wants to make an exception.”

Trakas asked if the city could return to the companies that bid on the tree-trimming contract and ask them to provide informal bids. Engineer Don Ramm said there was not enough time, and there was a question about a tree company’s availability in March. The hope was to have trees removed that month.

Per the city charter, five council votes are required to suspend the second reading of an ordinance involving expenditures and for legislation classified as an emergency, which was noted after the meeting via memo to council from Togliatti. The tree-trimming legislation and approval for property appropriations on Brecksville Road were on first reading, and five council members did not vote to suspend the rules. Council members revoted to approve both pieces of legislation on second reading at a special meeting on March 21.

Property purchase

Council approved a purchase and sale agreement for two properties, the first at 5998 Brecksville Rd. for $255,000 and the other at 6008 Brecksville Rd. for $240,000. Veverka and Togliatti were the only dissenting votes for both purchases. Economic Development Director Jessica Hyser said the city will obtain right-of-way needed for the Brecksville Road improvement project through the purchase.

In addition, the city is acting as intermediary between the property owners and developers for Independence-based oral surgeon Dr. Ashoo Khanuja, who plans to build an expanded office on three parcels on Brecksville Road, which includes the two new purchases.

“The developer was trying to work directly with the property owner, and it was too complicated,” said Hyser. “The property owner felt more comfortable working with the city.”

The developer would purchase the land from the city to move forward with the dental office. Togliatti asked if the city had any written agreements from the doctor to that effect. Hyser said they were in the works. Togliatti said if the city does not get contractual agreements and there is no follow through on the purchase, the city is on the hook for $495,000.

“The doctor has made a significant investment by bringing in the architecture and engineering firm on the site to do due diligence,’’ Hyser said. “She’s committed to this site.”

“We’re investing in the future because something will be developed on that property,” said Mayor Greg Kurtz. “We still need the right-of-way, it’s an investment in property, so the worst-case scenario is the city buys more property.”

Box store prohibition

Council unanimously passed a 12-month moratorium on “the accepting and processing of applications for zoning occupancy, conditional use and/or building permit approvals for small box discount stores in all zoning districts in the city of Independence.”

O’Brien said the objective of the moratorium is to “make sure that we have an effective zoning plan in place, so you don’t have a high concentration of one particular type of use and similar use.”

He said the building department, administration and Hyser will present a revision to the city zoning code. There will be a public hearing before council votes.

Veverka asked if the moratorium would handcuff the owner of the Independence Square building on Brecksville Road if the CVS drug store is moving.

“I understand the concern about not having a bunch of junk stores, but how much do we have a right to tell a property owner, that could dramatically strip their ability to make an income,” he said.

Said Narduzzi, “I’m more worried about what the future holds for the city, not the owner of the shopping center. It’s a 12-month period, it’s not really going to hurt anybody long-term, but I think it could save the city long-term.” ∞