Since 1990, Cuyahoga County has lost over 40,000 of its residents due to urban sprawl. Those communities that took the biggest hit lie in the inner ring suburbs.
Shaker Heights is looking at a way to combat the problem. Buying into the phrase "If you build it, they will come" - community leaders announced recently they are developing new town-homes and condos to "woo" empty nesters and single professionals back. But as 90.3 WCPN's Tarice Sims reports, not everyone is buying into this new housing alternative.
Tarice Sims- Shaker Heights is one of Cleveland's oldest suburbs. Located in the southeast portion of Cuyahoga County, the community is identified by it's English, French and Colonial style homes, tree-lined streets, park lands and lakes. But a drop in the population has sparked new efforts to change the landscape. Brian Gleiser is a Shaker Heights city councilman and chairs the city's planning committee.
Brian Gleiser- As people move away from the city, then our concern is: are we going to be able to attract people to live in our houses and also invest the money into them?
TS- In that last 10 years, Shaker Heights lost nearly 1,500 people. Compared to other inner rings suburbs it doesn't sound like much - Lakewood and Euclid lost more than 5,000 residents each. But despite the lower number, Shaker officials fear it will have a big impact on property values. Shaker Heights Mayor Judy Rawson started efforts to combat the problem three years ago when she was still a member of city council. That's when the strategic investment plan was born. The plan would focus on various areas of the community including transportation, education and housing. The housing portion of the plan would improve older apartments and single family and multi-family homes, while turning decrepit buildings and vacant land into condominiums and town homes. Housing alternatives priced between $150,000 and $450,000. On a recent housing tour Rawson explained why Shaker has to change.
Judy Rawson- In addition all communities are trying to upgrade, modernize the older housing. Our older housing has wonderful design, we don't want to lose that design, we don't want to take down the housing, but we have to adapt it to meet today's lifestyle. And that requires some creativity.
TS- This housing alternative is not a new concept. Cleveland, for instance, has built town homes and housing upgrades offering a choice in living space in an effort to revitalize the city's communities. Hunter Morrison is Cleveland's planning director. He is currenly on leave, and is acting as consultant on Shaker's housing project.
Hunter Morrison- Both the city and the surrounding inner ring suburbs are in the same boat of having to compete in a region where there are a lot of pressures of people and a lot of opportunities for people to move further out.
TS- So far only one project in Shaker Heights is underway, in the Sussex area. Just last month developers celebrated the ground breaking at the corner of Chagrin Boulevard and Farnsleigh Road. Heartland Developers is spearheading the project that will bring 46 town homes to that particular location. 16 homes are expected to be completed as early as this fall. Gordon Priemer is Principal at Heartland Developers. He says the demographic of the potential buyer is rather broad - everyone from single professionals to married empty nesters - but they do have one common thread... no kids.
Gordon Priemer- This kind of environment isn't conducive to that you know... We don't have playgrounds, we don't have a lot of outside area, and so on. We've built hundreds of these for the greater Cleveland area and they're not conducive to children. We're just a builder developer that doesn't concentrate on family market - we concentrate on the other 60% of the market.
TS- Some residents in Shaker Heights feel that's a problem, especially when it comes to empty nesters. After all, Shaker Heights is known for its competitive school system, a system that needs the support of its community. Ed Wea is a home owner on Warwick Road in Shaker Heights and a Shaker Heights High school teacher.
Ed Wea- You don't want to get a lot of retired people because they don't necessarily have that much interest in schools. Other communities have suffered with a large population of elderly people.
A marker signals a new development in the Sussex area at Farnsleigh & Chagrin in Shaker Heights.
Photo by Tarice Sims
TS- Another Warwick resident, Sue Dyke, agrees. She and her husband moved to Shaker Heights from Denver with their two small children. They were won over by the feel of community, and the landscape of the street and envisioned themselves raising their 2- and 4-year-olds here. Then came word of another potential development right next door. And another side of Shaker Heights was revealed - one that the Dykes say includes a future without them.
Sue Dyke- This isn't the kind of environment I intended to raise them in. I intended... I want them to be around other families other children and just really would like to see the property developed as it is zoned which is for single family homes.
TS- The Dykes, Ed Wea and several Warwick residents have filed an initiative with the city of Shaker Heights called "The Rights Retained by the People." Signatures are currently being gathered to require a referendum in November before this particular development could go forward.
Meantime, the local government is focusing on jump-starting several other developments following Sussex, in the Lee-Chagrin, West Chagrin and Moreland areas of Shaker Heights, in an effort to curb urban sprawl. In Shaker Heights, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN News.