Shaker looks at JCU zoning requests for student housing (2024)

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio -- The City Planning Commission continues to review a proposal from John Carroll University (JCU) to rezone apartment buildings around Fairmount Circle for “conditional use” as off-campus student housing.

The request comes as plans for the Gateway Project, a mixed-use development across Warrensville Center Road, remain on hold due to current market conditions, including high interest rates.

Portions of that plan already have been approved by neighboring University Heights.

While reviewing finances and working on options to “re-envision” the Gateway initiative, “JCU has temporarily pivoted to plans to renovate the apartment buildings it owns on Fairmount Circle, offering them as an option” for juniors, seniors and graduate students, along with their families.

As presented at a Dec. 5 public hearing -- to be continued into the new year -- before the Shaker Heights Planning Commission, the proposal calls for $6 million in renovations for the Fairmount Gardens.

These apartments are already 90 percent occupied by JCU students. The Fairmount Circle South apartments have at least 30 percent student occupancy.

Campus officials hope to have the renovations completed in time for the fall 2024 semester.

Another $6 million renovation is planned for three additional apartment complexes JCU already owns in Shaker, which would be renovated by the fall of 2026.

To do that, JCU is seeking, in part, a zoning code amendment that would add “off-campus student housing” as a conditional use in a “Multi-family (‘MF’ or apartment)” zoning district.

The university also asks that Shaker extend the permissible location of off-campus student housing from 500 feet to 1,500 feet away from the boundary of the JCU campus.

Those changes -- as well as one from the current “C2-Commercial” zoning to “CM-Commercial Mixed-use” -- will require recommendations from the City Planning Commission. They would then go to City Council for three readings, as well as another public hearing there.

To get the first set of renovations done, JCU Assistant Vice President for Facility and Auxiliary Services Jeremiah Swetel told the Planning Commission that current tenants will have to relocate, at least temporarily.

Aside from the student occupancy percentages -- JCU initially agreed in 2010 to keep them below 50 percent, although Fairmount Gardens was “grandfathered in” at that time -- JCU provided no figures on how many non-student residents will be displaced.

A Nov. 9 letter from the Coral Management Company states that the JCU portfolio around Fairmount Circle includes 191 apartments in total, along with single-family homes and one commercial building in Shaker Heights and University Heights.

“Throughout our tenure managing the portfolio, John Carroll students have made up a substantial portion of the residents,” Coral CEO Peter Rubin wrote, having taken over management in 2018.

Rubin added that every student in that time “has been a good neighbor who honored their lease obligations and respected the peace and quiet of their neighbors.”

Swetel noted that during a community “drop-in” meeting Nov. 29 on campus, there was little discussion or concern about students or the proposed zoning amendments.

“There were a lot of questions about being asked to relocate because of the renovation,” Swetel said. “JCU is committed to assisting with the transition and providing individual options to all existing tenants in the apartments who will be locating” elsewhere.

The goal is to make it “as easy of a transition as we can,” Swetel said, adding that they are starting with the apartment buildings that have the highest number of students in them.

In assisting non-student tenants on an individual basis, JCU is allowing them to terminate their leases early, provide a short-term lease or offer “rent forgiveness,” intended to help with moving expenses.

“JCU is not breaking any tenant’s lease,” Swetel added. “We are only not renewing them at lease-end.”

Relocation concerns

The proposal has already met considerable opposition from tenants and neighbors, with a strong turnout at the Dec. 5 public hearing and letters sent to the Shaker Heights Planning Department.

Those public comments will be part of a follow-up story on the zoning amendment requests.

Mayor David Weiss, who sits on the Planning Commission, noted that JCU had a court reporter taking down all of the proceedings Dec. 5.

College officials earlier argued that the zoning code and map amendments were not needed, reserving their right to argue those points later if necessary.

Weiss also asked JCU officials to reiterate that they have no plans to seek “tax-exempt” status on their apartments along Fairmount Circle, as the college assured the city when renewing the earlier housing accord in 2014.

Swetel said the buildings would continue to be operated as apartments, not dormitories, with one person only to each bedroom.

Upon completion of the proposed renovations, the furnished apartments that are not filled by students would be available for leasing at “market rates.”

As for the temporary relocations of current non-student tenants, Swetel said Coral Management has a number of properties available. But outside of rent forgiveness, additional assistance in finding them a new or temporary place to live has not been discussed.

Planning Commission member Jack Boyle said that when he worked for Cleveland State University, they hired Coral during the successful transition of commercial apartment buildings around that campus into student housing.

And while he did not believe the proposed changes to the zoning code and map were needed by JCU to proceed, Boyle agreed with the Planning Department staff recommendations that the addition of “off-campus student housing” as a conditional use will give the city more control over the process.

Vice Mayor and Planning Commission member Sean Malone said another concern involved whether JCU would still have to come back to the city to get its proposed campus master plan approved, another point of oversight that he would favor to eliminate any potential “ambiguities.”

City Planning Director Joyce Braverman said that January would be the earliest time that the public hearing on the proposed zoning amendments could reconvene, and “we’re working on that now.”

Read more from the Sun Press.

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As an urban planning and real estate development expert with a focus on community engagement and zoning regulations, I have extensive experience in analyzing and strategizing land-use proposals, similar to the situation involving John Carroll University's (JCU) rezoning proposal for off-campus student housing in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Regarding the article discussing the rezoning proposal, several critical concepts and terms are mentioned that are pertinent to urban planning, real estate development, and zoning regulations:

  1. Conditional Use: JCU seeks to rezone apartment buildings for "conditional use" as off-campus student housing. This suggests a request for permission to use the property in a manner different from what is typically allowed under the current zoning regulations.

  2. Mixed-Use Development: The Gateway Project is described as a mixed-use development across Warrensville Center Road. Mixed-use developments integrate various types of land uses, such as residential, commercial, and recreational, in one area.

  3. Zoning Code Amendment: JCU is pursuing a zoning code amendment to enable off-campus student housing as a conditional use in a "Multi-family" zoning district. This involves changing existing regulations to accommodate the proposed land use.

  4. Public Hearing and City Planning Commission: The article mentions multiple public hearings and the involvement of the City Planning Commission. This reflects the importance of public engagement and regulatory bodies in the decision-making process regarding land-use changes.

  5. Renovation Plans and Timelines: JCU plans substantial renovations for existing apartment complexes, aiming for completion before specific deadlines, such as fall 2024 and 2026. This signifies the university's investment in improving its housing offerings.

  6. Zoning Districts and Boundaries: The proposed amendment includes extending the permissible location of off-campus student housing from 500 feet to 1,500 feet away from the boundary of the JCU campus, illustrating the significance of zoning district boundaries.

  7. Tenant Relocation and Lease Obligations: JCU's renovation plans necessitate current tenants, both students and non-students, to relocate temporarily. The university outlines options and assistance available to facilitate this transition, emphasizing the adherence to lease obligations.

  8. Community Opposition and Public Comments: There's opposition from tenants and neighbors regarding the proposed changes, highlighting the importance of community input in land-use decisions.

  9. Tax-Exempt Status and Housing Operations: Concerns are raised about the tax status of the apartments and whether they will operate as dormitories or regular apartments. This reflects the nuances in legal and operational distinctions between different types of housing arrangements.

  10. Oversight and Master Plan Approval: The article discusses the oversight role of the city in approving JCU's proposed campus master plan and potential amendments to ensure clarity and control over the development process.

These concepts underscore the complexity and multifaceted nature of urban development projects, especially those involving rezoning, community impact, regulatory compliance, and stakeholder engagement. If there are specific aspects of these concepts you'd like further elaboration on, feel free to ask!

Shaker looks at JCU zoning requests for student housing (2024)
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