A pair of Cleveland developers have teamed up on an apartment proposal on Hessler Road in University Circle that they say will fill a need for new housing and make the area more vibrant. But the building’s design has rankled some Hessler residents who say it’s too large and modern for this historic district. Additionally, they’re worried that construction could further damage their historic brick and wood block street, stone sidewalks and curbs, which are badly in need of repair.
Rick Maron and Russell Berusch are proposing to build a four-story, 23-unit building on this historic street, which is best known for its popular street fair that has been on hiatus since 2019 after a 50-year run.
The micro apartments, which will feature hyper efficient designs and will be targeted at singles and couples affiliated with area institutions, will rent for $1,500-1,600 per month.
Maron, who retired from MRN Ltd. and is now developing projects on his own, including a separate project on Larchmere, said his aim is to help the area. “We’re trying to keep the historic elements of the street — so that it makes a modern statement, enhances the street itself, and keeps all of the character as well,” Maron said.
MRN Ltd. built the Uptown project in University Circle and also redeveloped East 4th Street in downtown Cleveland. Russell Berusch is president of Berusch Development Partners, a development adviser and real estate developer that has developed several projects in University Circle, including apartments on Euclid Avenue and Hessler 113 Townhomes.
Maron and Berusch responded to a request for information from University Circle Incorporated (UCI), which owns the properties, and presented their plans at a Feb. 10th community meeting. As part of the overall project, the developers also plan to renovate two existing multi-family buildings located at 1975 and 1981 Ford Drive.
Chris Ronayne, President of UCI, stated his organization’s support for the project. “By adding density, we’ll have a chance to get new residents who will support existing retail, support walkability, and hopefully support transit ridership, as well,” he said. About 1,600 new housing units have been built in University Circle since 2007, with almost as many planned, he added.
Yet Laura Cyrocki, a 22-year resident of Hessler, questioned the integrity of the meeting, stating afterwards that residents couldn’t see or hear each other and UCI selected which questions or comments were posed to the developers during the Q&A.
“In my opinion, that was not a public meeting, by any means,” she said. “UCI has a long history of buying up properties to make them affordable to the institutions. I don’t feel like they represent the residents very well.”
The apartments, which are proposed for a lot with a garage on it behind 1975 Ford Drive, would feature an exterior built from brick, stone and lap siding. The units would have balconies facing the street. Although the property is in an historic district, its height and setback roughly conform to surrounding buildings, developers said.
A driveway off of Ford Drive would lead to a new parking lot with 21 parking spaces and the possibility of housing six electric vehicles. There is also street parking and access to a UCI-owned garage on Ford Road.
Maron touted the proposed project as offering “a different product than really anything that exists in Cleveland.” Although they are trimly designed at just 460 square feet, the units still manage to squeeze in a bathroom, kitchen, office, lounge and bedroom by using flexible space. For example, a desk on wheels turns into a kitchen island that can be raised and lowered using a remote. When the meal is ready, it can be converted into an eight-person dining room table. The living room wall swings out to create a private den, and behind the wall, a queen bed can be lowered to create a private sleeping area.
Maron and Berusch are not asking the city of Cleveland for any types of incentives besides 15 year, 100% tax abatement on the building value, a perk that is currently granted to any new construction in the city.
Although attendees asked the developers if they’d be willing to forgo tax abatement, the question was not brought up. A 2020 study conducted by the city showed that tax abatement has “become increasingly concentrated in fewer places and increasingly used for large multi-family developments.” The policy generates substantial economic activity but has an impact on the city and schools. “In 2018, abated parcels represented $4.1 million of foregone property tax revenue, or 11.9% of the property tax revenue reported for the City’s General Fund. The revenue impact on the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), however, is more significant than for the city itself.”
The meeting was attended by 66 individuals. A group of Hessler dwellers posted their list of their concerns and questions. Cyrocki said that while she’d prefer open space, she’s not opposed to development that’s affordable and fits in with the surrounding neighborhood. One the main priorities of residents, however, is rebuilding the street, which has been neglected. “I don’t want to see anything happen until the powers that be come together to fix the street, because it’s caving in,” she said.
Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin, who represents the area, said that he knows that residents are concerned about the condition of Hessler Road. He stated that the city does not currently have a brick street repair program, but he’s asked for an estimate as to how much it will cost to repair it.
Hessler residents also expressed concern with how construction will be staged (the developers stated that trucks will use the entrance off of Ford Drive); whether residents who currently live at 1975 and 1981 Ford will be displaced (yes, by the construction); and if street trees will be removed. Some residents also questioned the developer’s track record, arguing that properties Berusch owns on Hessler have attracted problem tenants.
“I love University Circle. I love my space. I love my neighbors. It’s just a magical street. But if it turns into a construction zone, there are limits,” said Hessler resident Janice Cogger, who has lived on the street for 33 years.
“The street is like being on a roller coaster,” added Hessler dweller Chuck Hoven. “It’s caving in. The city promised to fix it in the past, but it didn’t happen.”
It remains to be seen whether UCI and the developers will bend their will to the residents of Hessler, a street which the blog Cleveland Historical describes as “festooned with history, greenery and more than a little anachronism … a vibrant 1920s enclave enveloped in a sleepy 1960s miasma.”
The developers did not respond to an interview request for this story. After the meeting, UCI representatives said the developers were receptive to many of the suggestions and there would likely be changes. They’re scheduled to go before the Euclid Corridor Design Review Committee on March 4th and the Cleveland Landmarks Commission on March 11th to seek additional approvals. When they do, they’ll likely have a fight on their hands.
“They picked on the wrong street,” said Cyrocki. “Hessler has many, many fans.”
To learn more about the Ford and Hessler development project and submit comments, click here.
Lee Chilcote is editor and founder of The Land.
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