Cleveland Heights council paves the way in which for MetroHealth enlargement with 5-1 vote, extra talks

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CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – After more than two hours and 122 public comments, all but nine of which were read, the city council on Wednesday approved updated plans to expand MetroHealth Hospital by $ 42 million.

The main sticking point remained MetroHealth’s plan to clear about three quarters of a hectare tree line on the edge of the remaining 24 to 30 hectares of Severance Forest to make room for 52 parking spaces as well as a separate lane for ambulance traffic.

MetroHealth owns six of these wooded acres. The opponents pointed to the vastness of unused parking spaces directly opposite in the Severance Town Center and to the possibility of renting parking spaces there from the owners outside of the city.

Hospital officials claim they looked every possibility already.

“If our designers found that small part of the forest possible to complete this project without touching a single tree, we would do just that,” wrote Akram Boutros, President and CEO of MetroHealth, in a letter dated to Cleveland Heights Council March 23rd President Jason Stein.

Boutros noted that with the Conditional Use Permit already unanimously recommended by the Control Council overseeing the zoning at Severance Town Center and the Planning Commission, MetroHealth is already urging the city to allow the opening with nearly 300 fewer spaces than currently required.

This decision was made without the affected residents or the city asking Metrohealth “because we care about the environment on our campus,” said Boutros, adding, “Now it is time for the council to decide whether this project is progressing. Put simply, we need a decision at the Wednesday meeting. We have a tight schedule. “

Hard change

Boutros stated that MetroHealth’s new main campus will open in October 2022.

“The behavioral hospital must open at the same time,” said Boutros. “If work doesn’t start almost immediately at Cleveland Heights, we’ll likely miss that deadline.” And that would be tragic for our patients and the entire community in Cuyahoga County. “

Councilor Melody Joy Hart agreed. At the special session on Wednesday evening (March 24th), postponed from a 15-minute block of time on Monday that did not allow for public comment, she introduced an amendment which was included in the resolution.

It states: “During the further development of the project, the applicant (MetroHealth) must actively look for parking alternatives that could preserve the trees adjacent to the buffer zone, for example renting the existing parking lot at Severance (Town Center).”

Hart noted that residents had legitimate concerns about opposing the loss of an existing canopy, and also cited the adjacent “ocean of parking lots owned by” NamdarAbout the Severance Circle.

Stein reported Thursday (March 25) that, according to Hart’s amendment, “City officials are meeting with representatives from MetroHealth today. We discuss options for reducing the number of parking spaces and trees that need to be removed. “

Hart added later on Thursday that “The staff worked hard today with MetroHealth to reduce the amount of trees required and also to investigate other parking spaces. We should hear more soon. “

Before the vote by the council, Stein had the expansion and investment, particularly in Severance, as “big win“For the city.

“This will bring well-paying jobs, hundreds of thousands of dollars of new tax revenue and I believe this will be a stepping stone for additional interest and an overhaul from Severance,” Stein said prior to the vote. “At least as important is that this behavioral health hospital is needed.”

In a city press release, officials cited MetroHealth’s plans to create 155 high-paying jobs in year one, rising to 225 jobs by year five, with an approximate wage bill of about $ 15 million a year. This would result in an estimated additional tax revenue of $ 340.00 for the city per year.

“Please don’t lose sight of the bigger vision here: the need for it expand dramatically the number of behavioral health and addiction services in Cuyahoga County, ”added Boutros in his letter.

They disagreed

While he wants the project to move forward and believes it could be “the start of a more dynamic overhaul for Severance as a whole,” council vice president Kahlil Seren noted that councilors are not elected to “go in lockstep” .

Seren voted for Hart’s amendment to be included but against the overall change in legislation itself, saying that he moved quickly from a perceived “undisputed issue” to one that requires more control and time rather than being approved as an “emergency” will measure at first reading.

With two readings or “regular orders, we would have had more time to work out a creative compromise,” Seren told his colleagues and the 40 or so people who saw the online meeting at the time.

Seren said that by deviating from the regular order, “the application went through the public process very quickly”. Regarding the hospital’s allegations of undue delay in the project, Seren countered that the new plans were only released within the past three weeks.

With all of the additional information coming in in that short span of time, the application has still moved “very quickly” through the public process, added Seren.

“If Cleveland Heights residents are asked to sacrifice their values ​​to further this project, we owe it to them to consider all options to minimize that sacrifice,” said Seren.

Boutros summed up a previous discussion with Cleveland Heights Police Chief Annette Mecklenburg and the planning committee about any perceived safety issues and stated that the hospital will be “very safe” with around 100 beds.

“And the entire community will be safer because people with behavioral health problems will get the compassionate care and treatment they need and deserve,” said Boutros.

To read the 113 comments out loud at the meeting, these responsibilities were shared between Finance Director and Council Clerk Amy Himmelein, IT Director Jim Lambdin, City Manager Susanna Niermann O’Neil, and Communications and Public Engagement Director Mary Trupo .

“I couldn’t have read for two hours, so I was very grateful for the help,” said Himmelein on Thursday (March 25).

Stein noted that the council also had an opportunity to read the remaining nine personal communications and emails for themselves.

Stein added that a council member had a flight that had been rebooked earlier in the day to attend the special session.

The city’s press release said that MetroHealth decided last year to continue investing in Cleveland Heights by adding 79,000 square feet of space that will focus on behavioral health issues and meet a huge need created by the effects of COVID -19 pandemic was exacerbated.

“We’re going to save lives with this new hospital, and we want to do it in Cleveland Heights,” said Boutros.

Read more from the Sun press.