Cleveland Board Of Zoning Appeals Backs Revised Little Italy Development

BZA Chairman Carol Johnson shakes the hand of a Little Italy resident.
The Board of Zoning Appeals heard testimony from both Little Italy residents and Hemingway Development regarding the proposed complex. [Taylor Haggerty / ideastream]
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A proposed apartment complex in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood is one step closer to becoming a reality after nearly two years of debate.

The Board of Zoning Appeals approved two variance requests on a 3-1 vote Monday, despite extensive opposition from some residents. Chairman Carol Johnson was the lone opposing vote.

The complex proposed by Hemingway Development will include 44 units and a basement-level garage with spaces for tenants and nearby restaurants’ valets.

“We started this process a year and a half ago — more than a year and a half ago,” said developer Michael Panzica. “We’ve worked very closely with the community and the city, and so we’re excited that we’ve gotten to a point where we can have a buildable project.”

The development, which would be located on Cornell Road, has gone before the board before without success. Previous designs were also voted down by the Cleveland Landmarks Commission, which said the complex was too large for the neighborhood. But the proposal has evolved over time to address those concerns, Panzica said, and the commission did approve a proposal in August.

More than 20 letters and emails were submitted to the board ahead of the Monday meeting, expressing a desire to preserve the neighborhood’s character and opposing the project.

“It is out of keeping with the surrounding area, which is all two- and three-family homes,” said resident Lucy Anne Christopher.

Residents in attendance voiced concerns about density, parking availability and traffic congestion. The project would also require the demolition of two homes already located on the lot, Christopher said.

The current proposal only requires two zoning variances, as opposed to five in a previous version. The changes account for a smaller backyard and a larger floor area for the building.

While the proposal has changed over time, there hasn’t been an open dialogue with the homeowners immediately next to the property, said Little Italy resident Chris Rander.

“That’s the kind of dialogue we need,” Rander said. “Not speaking with neighborhood bullies who think they know what’s right for everyone else.”

The Cleveland Planning Commission supported the pair of variances. Councilman Blaine Griffin, who represents the district, spoke in favor of the measures – but also said residents brought up valid concerns.

“We have to have more stringent rules on how we allow demolition in that area,” Griffin said. “We have to make sure we have projects that fit within the context, that speak Little Italy.”

Questions of traffic and neighborhood character weren’t included in the variances, he said, which addressed building and yard size.

Griffin initially opposed the complex but is supporting the new scaled-down proposal, he said. The Little Italy Redevelopment Corporation, which was against previous versions of the building, is also now supporting it after the changes.

“I haven’t seen any developer that has been as accommodating as they have been with the recommendations made by Little Italy Redevelopment Corporation, myself, residents and others,” Griffin said.

Feedback from residents will continue to shape how the project moves forward, said developer Panzica.

“We think this is an addition to the neighborhood on what is now effectively a parking lot, but we’ll also take their comments into consideration,” Panzica said.

The Cleveland Landmarks Commission has requested an opportunity to review the proposal once again, as it has changed since the commission approved it in August.

Work on the complex is set to begin in May.

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