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BREAKING: John Carroll evaluating legal options in zoning battle with Shaker Heights

Shaker+Heights+council+meetings+are+held+at+Shaker+Heights+City+Hall%2C+located+at+3400+Lee+Road.
Laken Kincaid
Shaker Heights’ council meetings are held at Shaker Heights City Hall, located at 3400 Lee Road.

Tensions reached a new high between John Carroll and members of the Shaker Heights Board of Zoning Appeals and City Planning Commission on Tuesday, culminating with JCU hinting at legal action against the city. Now, the university faces additional obstacles with their backs up against a fall 2024 deadline.

This meeting was held after nearly three months of deliberation on John Carroll’s plans to convert the apartment buildings surrounding Fairmount Circle entirely into student housing. Although the complexes in University Heights are already undergoing renovations, the apartments on the other side of Warrensville Center Road have become the center of debate.

In a Feb. 12 meeting, the Shaker Heights City Council sent the zoning agreements to make this project a reality back to the Shaker Heights Board of Zoning Appeals and City Planning Commission by a 6-0 vote to rework the controversial language of John Carroll’s proposition, specifically the request to expand the housing distance from campus from 500 feet to 1,500 feet. The commission met separately on March 5 and then presented their new ideas to the public last night.

“We’re trying to work with John Carroll and have been all along for many months, we’ve worked with them since 2010 on the issue of student housing in their apartment buildings,” William M. Ondrey Gruber, Shaker’s director of law, told The Carroll News.

Ondrey Gruber said there were two main worries in this process: changing the use of the buildings and the displacement of longtime residents in the apartment buildings. On the first issue, much of it boils down to logistics and how students interact with the community around them.

“With their proposal to create student housing, it is a different use,” he continued. “It doesn’t mean it’s a bad use, it doesn’t mean that students are bad. It means that students congregate together without others and it is a different type of use; it changes the atmosphere, the universe of the neighborhood.”

On the second matter, the director said he is worried about what will happen to the residents of the apartment, many of whom held occupancy at these locations for years.

“They’re not throwing anyone out at this time,” he said “But they’re in the other three buildings. They’re full occupancy and very few students. If they did change those to student housing, they would be throwing out a lot of people, most mainly elderly people, some who have lived there for a long time.”

In these new amendments, commissioners reworked the proposal to create an overlay zone on the two buildings John Carroll previously purchased rather than adjusting the distance as previously requested by the university. John Carroll would then apply for a conditional use permit or CUP “to establish… overlay use on those two properties.” The overlay zone must also comply with a multitude of conditional use standards, many of which are meant to combat the worries of residents regarding the growing population of college students in the area. This was recommended following a workshop by the commission and after discussion with Kris Hopkins, an external consultant.

In response, John Carroll’s land use counsel, Anthony Coyne, stated that he believed “John Carroll’s due process rights have been ignored.”

“We don’t think you’re really listening to us,” Coyne said to the commission. “I believe that the current draft ordinances are an overreach of your city zoning powers and your zoning authority.”

Coyne continued to discuss the university’s issues with the ordinances including “ignoring equal protection rights of the property owners” and questioning future enforcement, even calling the drafting “unworkable.” Before stepping back from the podium, Coyne said John Carroll was going to “evaluate all of our legal options at this point.” Later in the meeting, JCU agreed that they would continue to work with the city, but were distressed by the lengthening process with student housing for the coming semester on the line.

Shaker Heights residents continued to push back against John Carroll during the public forum, questioning the nuances of the plan from the logistics to what Shaker Heights resident Sally Wilson describes as “an attitude” problem from the institution.

“When students are in an intergenerational environment, they tnd to act better,” she told the commission. “Our best bet is to have them in a mixed-housing environment… I’m not sure this couldn’t be done well by preserving multi-generational housing.”

When asked what she would like to see from this development, Wilson told The Carroll News “what I aim for is the students being interactive with the community. We used to have so much more of that than we have now.”

After some deliberation and hearing out concerns, the new amendments were passed unanimously by the commission. The recommendations now enter a lengthy approval process including three readings by the Shaker Heights City Council, all of which are subject to input from both the university and current residents. While John Carroll may be displeased with the result of this hearing, Ondrey Gruber has hope that both sides can come out happy.

“We have to balance John Carroll’s ownership of the buildings and their ability to use their buildings as they wish,” he said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do. This is one step that would allow [the] university to use the two buildings.”

Representatives from John Carroll University declined to comment further at this time.

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About the Contributors
Laken Kincaid, Editor-in-Chief
Laken Kincaid is the Editor-in-Chief for The Carroll News from Beckley, West Virginia. They are a senior at John Carroll University who is double majoring in political science and communications (digital media) and minoring in leadership development. Laken has written for The Carroll News since the start of their freshman year and has previously served as a staff reporter, campus section editor and managing editor of the paper. They have received 18 Best of SNO awards, a Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for Region 4 and two honorable mentions from the College Media Association. They have also been recognized by universities like Georgetown for their investigative reports. Additionally, they also write political satire for The Hilltop Show and feature stories on global poverty for The Borgen Project. In addition to their involvement with The Carroll News, Laken is involved with the Kappa Delta sorority, the speech and debate team, the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, the Improv club and other organizations. They also serve as the news director for WJCU 88.7, John Carroll's own radio station, and as the president for John Carroll's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.  Laken also started their own national nonprofit organization known as Art with the Elderly which they have won the President's Volunteer Service Award and the Humanity Rising Award for. When not writing, Laken can be found doing graphic design for their internship with Union Home Mortgage or working as a resident assistant and peer learning facilitator on campus. Laken also enjoys skiing and watching true crime documentaries. In the future, Laken hopes to become a political journalist for a national news organization or to be a campaign commercial editor for politicians. To contact Laken, email them at [email protected].
Evan Richwalsky, Multimedia: Audio and Engagement Editor
Evan Richwalsky is the Multimedia: Audio and Engagement Editor for The Carroll News from Avon, Ohio. He is currently a senior at John Carroll University majoring in Communications (Digital Media) and minoring in Leadership Development.
Elsewhere on campus, Evan is heavily involved in WJCU, serving as the Production Director for the station, as well as a sports producer and a heights DJ and DJ trainer. He is also a Student Senator for the Class of 2024 and works in the Sports Information Office. Off campus, Evan previously had heavy involvement in youth leadership on the national level for the Boy Scouts of America. He also earned the Eagle Scout rank, the Summit Award, and was recognized with the Order of the Arrow’s Founder’s Award and Vigil Honor.
With what little free time Evan has, he enjoys running, being outdoors, graphic design, trying to keep up with sports and flying places to go see his friends.
In the future, Evan hopes to get a job behind the scenes in sports, either as a broadcast producer or working in a stadium scoreboard/replay control room.

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