An East Side developer who has defied the abysmal real estate market with successful projects in Rocky River, Little Italy, and Cleveland Heights wants to construct 14 luxury townhomes on the site of a 2.6 acre Edgewater Dr. estate.
The project is in the preliminary stages and still must clear several hurdles, including the city zoning code that limits to ten the number of homes that can be built on the property.
A group of about 35 citizens gathered on Thursday evening at Emerson Elementary School to listen to the developer and city officials describe the broad outline of the proposal.
Despite the cool reception the presentation received from many of those in the audience who live near the Edgewater estate, the city’s mayor said he is taking the project “very seriously.” It would be hard for him to ignore it – his backyard is a mere seven feet away from the prospective redevelopment site
City administration noncommittal on the project
William and Marla Heideloff, who owned 13474 Edgewater Dr. for 30 years, turned the deed over to their mortgage lender three months ago due to “unfortunate circumstances,” according to interim Mayor Michael Summers.
Summers told the crowd that Park View Federal Savings, the current owner, is “very motivated” to dispose of the asset due to its need to clean up its portfolio of delinquent and nonperforming loans. The bank has been scrutinized by the federal Office of Thrift Supervision and ordered to improve its finances.
The house has been vacant and for-sale-by-owner for the last five years. Summers claimed the Edgewater Dr. house is in foreclosure, but there is no evidence of a current or prior foreclosure. The Heideloffs had been one half-year behind on property taxes, although the bank rectified the delinquency.
Acting Director of Director of Planning and Development Dru Siley said he and the mayor first met with the developer a month ago. “This is the very beginning,” he said. “It fact, this might be a little premature.”
Siley showed a map depicting how several of the large parcels on Edgewater Dr. that once belonged to estates and stretched from the street to the lake have been subdivided into short streets like Kirtland Lane and Edgewater Lane.
The developer has proposed dividing the former Heideloff parcel into lots of 9,000 square feet. They would be 500 square feet larger than the average lot size on adjacent Homewood Dr. and 3,500 square feet less than the average lot size on adjacent Wilbert Rd, where the mayor lives.
As the city’s chief planner, Siley told the crowd his job is to act in the “long-term best interest of the community.” He indicated he had not yet taken a position on the acceptability of the development. “We’re not here to sell you on the development,” he said.
The Townhomes of Edgewater: A ‘higher level of living’
Developer Andrew Brickman came to the meeting with the opposite agenda. “I am here to sell you on this development, I suppose,” he said to the gathering of residents.
Brickman’s company, Abode Living, has teamed with Lakewood-based Dimit Architects to transform the former Heideloff Estate into The Townhomes of Edgewater. Brickman’s lender is Parkview Federal Savings, the current owner of the property. He has an option with the bank to purchase the estate contingent upon gaining zoning variances from the city. He also has the right to match any bid made on the property.
The Warrensville Heights native, who had previously lived in Los Angeles and Boulder, CO before moving back to town, has been in the real estate business for 30 years. He gave a PowerPoint presentation accented with his recent successes, including the luxury townhouses in the Rocky River Valley that have sold at prices between $687,000 and $739,000.
Brickman said the goal of his proposed Lakewood development would be to create a “higher level of living.” It would be targeted at a mix of people, including empty-nesters and busy professionals. “It’s for people who don’t want to take care of a house,” he said, referring to the townhomes’ no-maintenance exteriors – a key benefit of the project.
Mayor: ‘Single floor living’ is needed in city
Brickman indicated the 14 detached 1,800 to 2,000 square foot single-family Craftsman-style townhomes would be priced beginning at $379,000. All of the residences would feature a first-floor master bedroom with an optional loft and finished basement. The homes would have an attached two-car garage and a shared driveway.
Brickman said once he gets the necessary zoning variances and acquires the property, it could be built in as little as a one-year timeframe. Anything over a year and he would “go from making a lot of money, to a little money”
A new 19 foot-wide road would be constructed to connect Edgewater Drive to Cliff Dr, which is now a dead-end street. The development would utilize geothermal energy and all of the utilities would be buried.
Brickman showed what he emphasized were preliminary architectural renderings, floor plans, and site layouts. He did not provide copies of the material to attendees.
Six townhouses would be built on lots 60 to 70 feet wide on both sides of the street. A common area with an unobstructed view of Lake Erie would be created at the northernmost end of the road. On either side of the common area would sit two high-value townhouses with a modernistic architecture in sharp contrast to the 12 Craftsman-style homes.
Mayor Summers praised the “single floor living” concept. “The demand for this kind of lifestyle is huge,” he said. Summers noted the dearth of housing options for the city’s aging population whom have become physically less capable of climbing steps and maintaining older houses. He mentioned that several of his Lakewood friends have been forced to relocate to cities like Strongsville in order to find suitable alternatives for their needs.
Residence and carriage house would be demolished
One disadvantage of Brickman’s development proposal would be the loss of a piece of Lakewood’s historical character. To make room for the townhomes, the property’s existing century-old home and accompanying carriage house would be demolished.
Brickman tried to find a way to include them in the project, but said, “It doesn’t make sense financially.” He felt the room sizes in the primary residence were too small to work with. “You gotta redo every single square foot of that house,” Brickman observed. He also noted that a recent burst water pipe caused $30,000 in damage to the carriage house.
The realtor who is working with the bank to find a buyer for the property was not present at the meeting, but said afterward there has been a good amount of interest in the house from individuals who want to restore and preserve it.
“There’s nothing wrong with that house that reducing the price won’t fix,” said Howard Hanna real estate agent Gloria Hardington. “The price is just too high. It needs repairs for sure. It’s a 100-year old house.” The current list price is $994,900.
In addition to the need for a new furnace, the condition of the basement is the most immediate concern, according to Hardington. It needs to be waterproofed. The house received a new roof in 2010.
Hardington said she has one prospective buyer, in particular, who is capable and “very anxious” to acquire and preserve the home. “We were sort of put on the back burner because the builder came in,” she said, referring to Brickman’s agreement with the bank that gives him the option to purchase the property if he can secure zoning variances from the city.
Neighbors offer mixed reaction to preliminary drawings of development
Upon viewing preliminary renderings of the townhouse architecture and development layout, certain common concerns were expressed by those at the meeting.
Karen, who lives on a street adjacent to the estate, said the plans were nice, but not appropriate for the location. “It’s way too dense for our neighborhood,” she said. “It looks too development-like.”
In addition, she found the style of architecture to be inconsistent with the surrounding neighborhood. “It’s not why we bought in Lakewood,” she said. “To me, it looks like it was dropped from the sky.”
A 52-year resident of Edgewater Dr. also thought the development layout looked cramped. “You have too many houses on too little land,” she said, and warned of the dangers of building structures too close to the cliff overlooking Lake Erie. Over the years, she said she’s lost 30 feet of property to erosion.
Another citizen was more direct in expressing his thoughts on the renderings. “We lose the character of what Lakewood is all about,” he said. “This is a travesty in my neighborhood as far as I’m concerned.”
The modern architecture of the two townhomes closest to the lake was not well received by one man. “Those are just ugly,” he said. Rather than serving as complimentary visual anchors for the street, he found them to be “jarring.”
“I want to preserve the integrity of these neighborhoods,” Brickman responded. He reminded everyone the plans are preliminary and could change. “I’m open to whatever will sell the fastest,” he said.
One audience observer called the plans “very imaginative,” and liked the unobstructed visual access to the lake. He reminded everyone that residents complained about the Edgewater Lane project and it turned out to be much nicer than what it replaced.
Another person said he wasn’t bothered by the project’s density because some of the surrounding streets already have compact layouts that create a “cozy village-type atmosphere.”
There were a few questions about the setback between the proposed development and the existing streets. Project architect Scott Dimit said there would be a seven-foot planted buffer between new and old. A woman whose property backs up to the existing carriage house volunteered that its closeness never bothered her.
Park space unlikely; property tax abatement possible
With a half-decade long period of vacancy at the former Heideloff Estate, neighbors on the adjoining streets were able to take certain liberties with the property and enjoy it as what Siley, the city’s top planner, described as a “passive park for the neighborhood.”
A meeting attendee queried Siley about the possibility of the city snapping it up for use as a park. Siley flatly rejected the idea. “A park isn’t the right use” for the land, he said. He added it was unlikely the city could afford such an endeavor, even if it was interested in the idea.
Someone wondered what level of property tax abatement might be bestowed upon the potential new properties. Brickman left the door of possibility open, and said “under no circumstances” would the tax amount be any less than the current $17,476 the parcel generates.
Mayor takes ‘mercenary’s view’ of deal
Mayor Summers surprisingly did not make any critical remarks of the project that stands to harpoon the relative privacy and calm that surrounds his personal residence.
Even though at the start of the meeting Siley said that the city hadn’t taken a position on the development yet, it sounded like Summers had at least a few toes in the pro-townhouse camp.
Taking a look at the deal from the perspective of the mayor’s office (which he referred to as the “mercenary’s view”), Summers pointed out to the audience that it would bring in an increased amount of property and personal income taxes. The additional money would be welcome to a city facing the prospect of a $1.5 million reduction in state funding in the 2011-2012 fiscal year with no letup in sight.
The city “will be scratching and clawing to keep service at the levels they’re at now,” he said. “This is a very big balancing act.”
To add another dimension to the conversation, Summers said that every new house built in the exurbs essentially means one less house will be purchased in an inner-ring suburb like Lakewood. He estimated 200 to 300 houses in the city face “rejection” each year and begin on the path of neglect and decay.
Taking into account the totality of the circumstances surrounding the city’s health, the mayor cannot easily dismiss growth opportunities. “We’re obligated to take this very seriously,” he said.
One gentleman asked for a show of hands to see who preferred to see the house rehabilitated and preserved rather than demolished. About half of the people in the room raised their hands. “What white knight is going to come?” Summers wondered.
The mayor reiterated that the bank that holds house is “under a lot of pressure,” although the home is still on the market and available to a buyer for the right price. “It’s a complex view,” he said.
Developer ‘extremely pleased’ with meeting, declares interest in St. James
Developer Andrew Brickman said he was “extremely pleased” with the results of the public meeting, and encouraged by the residents who approached him afterwards and expressed support for the project.
Brickman said the style of residence he wants to build is one “desperately needed” by the city of Lakewood. “I feel that the planning director and mayor feel the same way,” he said.
The developer said he got the sense that some residents have been “spoiled” for the last several years by the open park space in their backyards, and understood why they might be opposed to change.
Brickman said he wants to get a deal done, and isn’t interested in a protracted fight. “There are too many other opportunities, particularly in inner-ring suburbs,” he said.
Having successfully redeveloped a historic church in Cleveland Heights, he’s been working with Catholic Diocese of Cleveland officials and examining their inventory of surplus churches.
Brickman is keeping an eye on the status of Lakewood’s largest vacant church, “I’m extremely interested in St. James,” he said.