In response to criticism from city officials and nearby residents, Forest City Land Group is making a modest effort to improve the appearance of their unfinished Rockport Square project.
First announced in the summer of 2003, the $25 million project along Detroit Rd. in the city’s East End was supposed to take three years to complete and include construction of 59 townhouses, 42 live-work lofts, six shops, and an outdoor dining courtyard. The 4.5-acre site had been owned by Bob Fairchild Chevrolet, which moved to Westlake, and the former Koepke Motors.
A joint partnership between Forest City and Rysar Properties broke ground on the redevelopment project in 2004. Two years later, Forest City acquired Rysar’s interest in the deal, and managed to get around two-dozen townhomes built before the economy soured.
Currently, two wide swathes on either side of Detroit Rd., where the remainder of the project – lofts and an Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar – was planned are completely vacant and surrounded by a six-foot tall chain link fence. (see site plan .PDF)
Beach Ave. residents circulate petition
Citizen discontent with the visual appearance of the site surfaced at the September 8th meeting of Lakewood City Council. Councilperson Nickie Antonio (At-Large) mentioned that Beach Ave. residents were circulating a petition expressing their unhappiness with the situation. “Clearly, the residents around that [area] are concerned,” she said.
Mayor Edward O. FitzGerald concurred. “I am very dissatisfied with the property maintenance there, and I have been for some time.” FitzGerald said he didn’t accept Forest City’s explanation for the presence of a large dumpster and portable toilet on the vacant lot. He also felt they should at least broom sweep the lots. “We’re not getting the response we want,” he said. Councilperson Mary Louise Madigan (Ward 4) agreed, “It does look terrible, and that’s why there’s a petition.”
Forest City agrees to mark the site
During the September 20th meeting of the Economic Development Committee, Madigan said she had been in contact with Forest City VP of Joint Ventures Bill Sanderson and Rockport Square Sale Representative Cathy Deininger. She said they agreed to post signs around the empty lots identifying them as development sites. The dumpster and portable toilet were removed.
Director of Planning and Development Nathan Kelly said the fences could not be removed from the site for safety reasons. He said the pavement has a lot of holes in it, and one parcel still has a basement.
Mayor ‘not done with them’
At the September 22nd Listening2Lakewood event held at Garfield Elementary School, FitzGerald elaborated on his frustrations with Rockport Square in response to a question from the audience.
He said he’d been in contact with Forest City about the condition of the vacant lots at Rockport Square, and made his dissatisfaction clear to them. “They’ve done a lousy job maintaining that lot,” he said. “They have not been respectful of our community standards.”
FitzGerald said the company was not responsive, and he knew it was only a matter of time before the site drew citizen complaints. He dispatched the city’s building department to conduct an inspection of the property, which resulted in the issuance of citations.
The move grabbed Forest City’s attention. “They were somewhat responsive, but not to my liking,” he said. The mayor also explained that the company was cold to the idea of building a temporary community garden in the open space.
FitzGerald said Forest City is unlikely to make any additional improvements to the site before winter, but added, “I’m not done with them.”
Forest City Responds
When contacted about the situation, Forest City VP of Corporate Communications Jeff Linton said via e-mail that the company is satisfied with its working relationship with the city, but clarified two points.
The dumpster and portable toilet were on-site and in use, he said, because several of the townhomes had interior build-outs underway. The portable toilet is an OSHA requirement, he noted.
Regarding the community garden, Linton said Forest City is “very open to the idea of a community garden in a mutually agreeable location.”
Linton emphasized that Rockport Square has been a “distinct success” for Lakewood – with more than 26 units sold over the past three months – amidst rotten economic conditions. “The city deserves credit for having had the courage to engage with us,” he said, “But we have also held to our commitments as well by delivering a high-quality product that is responsive to the needs and high standards of Lakewood.”
Linton said the final two phases of the project will move forward, but “only as it makes economic sense to do so.”