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Highland Heights Council, seeking to limit future nursing facility construction, may have charter change on November ballot

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 6/30/2020 By Jeff Piorkowski, cleveland.com

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Come November, voters may be casting ballots on a charter change issue that would seek to limit the number of future nursing facilities built in the city.

City Council’s Committee-of-the-Whole met Monday (June 29) at the Highland Heights Community Center to discuss the possible ways to limit what could be built in years to come. It is a continuation of past discussions that have resulted in two moratoriums being passed on the construciton of new nursing and assisted living facilities. One of those moratoriums is now in effect until after the Nov. 3 election.

The first moratorium, at six months in length, was put into effect in October, a few months after the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission approved a new assisted living facility that could be built by Omni on 16 acres next to the UPS facility, 331 Bishop Road, which it has an option to purchase.

While the Omni project is thought to be still alive, its planning has been slow. If built, it would give the city four assisted living/nursing facilities. The others are Aberdeen Crossings Assisted Living, 399 Bishop Road; Kemper House, 407 Golf View Lane; and Highland Pointe Health & Rehabilitation Center, 402 Golf View Lane.

The possibility of a fourth such facility caused Highland Heights Fire Chief William Turner, last fall, to show concern in that these senior care facilities produce many calls for EMS help. At Monday’s meeting, Turner said that the three current facilities account for 24-25-percent of the HHPD’s call volume, which leaves less time and manpower to answer residents’ calls.

Council is now seeking a legal way to cap the number of facilities in the city. The method and conditions chosen must be strong enough to withstand lawsuits challenges should future nursing facility developers feel they are the victim of discrimination while seeing other such operations doing business in Highland Heights.

At Monday’s meeting, Kristin Hopkins, a paid consultant with CT Consultants who is working on the matter with the city, told of the city’s four options.

-- The first option would be to be to eliminate all mention of nursing facilities, hospitals and clinics from the city’s zoning code, meaning conditional use permits could not be granted to allow such operations to do business in the city, as is now the case.

-- The second option would add specific conditions to the chapter in city code permitting such facilities. These conditions could be things such as allowing the facilities only to build on major streets, establishing a minimum lot size for the facilities, listing programming and services that must be provided, requiring one parking space for every five beds, and limiting the number of beds allowed in them. Councilman Ed Hargate has asked Hopkins to specify which conditions are now in use in other communities and how they have fared.

-- Creating a new overlay district, which would mean voters would have to approve a change in zoning to allow for a nursing facility to be built This option would also include, like option one, deleting from the code the section allowing conditional use permits for nursing facilities.

-- Creating a new Medical Care District, which would allow for a wide range of permitted medical uses. This fourth option met with little or no council backing.

While several council members were interested in pursuing the second option and choosing perhaps four or five conditions for inclusion, Turner said he did not favor the idea of listing conditions.

“With regards to conditions, I really don’t support providing conditions because they don’t work,” Turner said. “We do a lot of these (listed conditions) already. When it comes to (the condition of stating required) programming and services, who’s going to enforce that?”

Turner said that trying to enforce some conditions may lead to more lawsuits than the city would face by merely disallowing any future nursing facilities. He said that 400-500 people live and work at the current three facilities that account for the 24-25-percent of the HHFD’s call volume (Omni is planning for another 150 rooms), as well as the services of police. He said that assisted living facilities have a lot of domestic issues that require police attention.

“Some people in the past have accused me of being anti-aging,” he said of his comments on the need to limit future assisted living and nursing facilities. “What I’m telling you tonight is my opinion. I’m just a messenger. This is my side of the story about how I feel about this.

“In addition,” Turner continued, “in my opinion, we need to look at the effects this has on (city) revenue.” Many acres of developable land in Highland Heights is located off Bishop Road, where nursing facilities can now be built. This land is in a “PCM” zoning district, meant for office park, commercial and light industrial type of enterprises, all of which Turner called the city’s financial “bread and butter.”

Finance Director Joseph Filippo said that the city’s three nursing home facilities combined make up for only about 1 percent of its annual income tax revenue.

Planning & Zoning Commission Chair Vince Adamus, who also addressed council at the meeting, said that in terms of tax money, light industry and offices produce the most for a city, while nursing facilities rank at the bottom of allowed uses in the PCM district.

Adamus also had council thinking of the future when he noted that, in years to come, if nursing/assisted living facilities are no longer needed, the best use for the buildings would likely be multi-family housing, a zoning type that does not now exist in Highland Heights.

“Forward thinking, 10-20 years from now, the population just isn’t there,” Council President Lisa Stickan said, speaking of birth rates in years after the Baby Boomer generation.

Councilwoman Carol Ganser added that it could be a similar situation to when schools were built throughout the land to accommodate Baby Boomers as children, then, in recent years, have had to be repurposed.

Turner said that developers’ goals include getting 20-25 years of service from a new facility.

Council has until a Sept. 4 Cuyahoga County Board of Elections deadline to craft the criteria by which it would seek to limit future nursing/assisted living facilities in order to be a part of the Nov. 3 ballot.

Stickan has called for a 7 p.m. meeting July 7, also at the community center, to continue with the discussion.

Grants for small businesses

Filippo said that 35 Highland Heights businesses have submitted applications to receive a grant from the city of up to $2,500 as part of a city program to aid struggling business during the COVID-19 pandemic. No grants have yet been given.

The deadline to return applications to the city was June 26. After the applications have been examined to determine which meet eligibility requirements, the 10-person Economic Development Committee will decide who gets grants and in what amount. The committee consists of five residents; Mayor Chuck Brunello, Jr.; Turner; Highland Heights Police Chief James Cook; Lisa Stickan; and Filippo.

See more Sun Messenger news here.

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