South Euclid, OH Residents Organize To Block Golf Course Conversion To Wal-Mart Superstore
Residents in Cleveland Heights, Ohio prefer fairways to malls, and the threat of a Wal-Mart supercenter has them teed off. On December 30, 2010, readers of the Cleveland Heights, Ohio Patch website learned that a development company called First Interstate Properties had purchased part of the Oakwood Country Club property in neighboring South Euclid, Ohio, with the intent of using part of the land for big box retail.
Owner Mitchell Schneider bought 62 acres in South Euclid, and was closing in on another 92 acres in Cleveland Heights. Schneider described his plans as 63 acres for retail, 22 acres for residential, and the rest open space. Schneider indicated at the time that like his other malls, he'd like to attract stores like Target, Home Depot or Wal-Mart.
The developer told the Patch that there was a "tremendous gap in the marketplace" for suburban areas needing national chain retailers. There are currently 6 Wal-Mart stores within 15 miles of Cleveland Heights, including one Wal-Mart right in Cleveland Heights on Mayfield Road, and a superstore 8 miles away in Bedford. The entire shopping center footprint under consideration would be around 325,000 s.f., or around the size of 5.5 football fields -- plus the parking area.
Unfortunately for First Interstate, the land in South Euclid they want for big boxes is presently zoned residential, so the project can expect citizen opposition. Residents began organizing to fight the rezoning. By the middle of May, the Patch reported that as many as 4,500 residents of South Euclid had received postcards urging them to attend the May 25th meeting of the South Euclid City Council. A group called Citizens for Oakwood, which is part of a larger non-profit group called the Severance Neighborhood Organization (SNO), produced the postcard.
"The future of the neighborhood is in your hands" the postcard said, showing a photo of the Country Club with a bulldozer threatening it. "Is This What You Want?" the group asked voters. The mailing cost the group around $1,500.
This battle is an unpleasant déjà vu for Cleveland Heights residents. In 1994, another prolific Wal-Mart developer, Developers Diversified Realty, attempted to get the Country Club rezoned to commercial. A grassroots group called the Community Coalition to Stop the Mart gathered 11,000 signatures in Cleveland Heights and South Euclid, and pressured City Councilors in Cleveland Heights and South Euclid to nix the plan. The DDR plan never happened, and the threat was averted.
Opponents of the Schneider plan say they have been warned by Wal-Mart workers that the existing Wal-Mart discount store in Cleveland Heights just one mile away will be closed if a superstore is built at the Oakwood Country Club location. The Citizens for Oakwood steering committee says it attempted to meet with the Mayors from South Euclid and Cleveland Heights, but were rebuffed. "Because city officials in South Euclid and Cleveland Heights did nothing to help preserve Oakwood," a member of the group wrote, "they left our communities vulnerable to the destruction of this greenspace. They opened the door to the developer and his global investment group, Legacy Capital Partners, to come in, and destroy a community amenity in order to make a short term profit."
South Euclid city government is so anxious to land this project that the city updated its Comprehensive Plan this spring, and admitted it was "precipitated by a request to rezone a 41-acre portion of the Oakwood Site from residential to commercial use."
What you can do: Neighbors are focusing now on the South Euclid meeting on May 25th. "If South Euclid City Council votes to rezone Oakwood,' they say, "South Euclid residents are prepared to place the issue on the ballot; they can and will make this important decision themselves. Oakwood is not a done deal. This is our community."
The group notes that shifting the store from Cleveland Heights to South Euclid will merely transfer jobs and tax revenues from one city to another -- and does not represent any add value economically to the trade area. Existing grocery stores in the area would be the biggest losers.
Opponents have started a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/citizensforoakwood to draw support for their effort. The Sun News newspaper editorialized recently that South Euclid officials would hold the developer to his promise to provide "plenty of greenspace" in the development, and claimed that "South Euclid officials are backing the proposal based on that promise."
The newspaper then attacked project opponents, suggesting that they were circulating "rumors, half-truths and misinformation," and "are going to ridiculous lengths to try and fuel the fire against this project." The Sun News scoffs at claims that Wal-Mart is the likely anchor store for the project -- even though the developer mentioned Wal-Mart on a short list of anchors. Yet the newspaper wrote, "we strongly urge Schneider not to try and lure Wal-Mart from [Cleveland Heights] -- there are plenty of other national retailers that are underserved in this area to fill the shopping center."
Readers are urged to email South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo at: firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Welo,
Your city is bending over backwards to steal revenues from Cleveland Heights as part of the Oakwood Commons project. You know that Wal-Mart will not sustain two stores just one mile apart. The Cleveland Heights store will close, and one of the last major pieces of open space in your community will be lost. North East Ohio is already saturated with Wal-Marts, including a superstore only 8 miles away in Bedford.
The Wal-Mart expansion will simply displace sales at existing grocery stores in your area, so it brings no added value economically to your city. The Country Club was not a good location for a big box store in 1994, and nothing has changed to warrant 350,000 s.f. now. That's the equivalent of 5.5 football fields under one roof -- not counting the enormous parking lot that will surround it.
Inviting Wal-Mart to South Euclid is like inviting the cannibals to dinner, and it is your existing merchants who are the main course on the menu. No developer has a right to rezoning, and I urge you to take the lead to oppose this dramatic change in land use."