Environmentalists have their say over trimming forest edge for Cleveland Heights MetroHealth growth

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CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – With an objection to the cutting of approximately 0.75 acres of the Severance Estate’s remaining forest, city officials have postponed a meeting to approve MetroHealth Hospital’s expansion plan to allow public comment.

The special on-line meeting of the city council, which was scheduled on Monday (March 22) for a period of 15 minutes with no personal communication from local residents prior to an executive session, took place rescheduled until Wednesday at 6.30 p.m.

The city’s Board of Control, which oversees the zoning in Severance Town Center, and the planning committee have already recommended that the council approve MetroHealth’s plans to build a new 100-bed building for $ 42 million Behavioral Hospital Measuring an additional 79,000 square feet.

There are also plans to add a behavioral health wing with 12 beds in the existing hospital as well as a reconfiguration of the west parking lot and a reduction in parking space to a total of 402 spaces requires a variance out of town.

To do this, MetroHealth officials want to remove “a 40-foot strip of mature forest along the eastern and northern borders of their property,” noted Resident Deborah Van Kleef, who has asked residents to voice their concerns to the city council.

Joe Frolik, senior vice president of communications, government and community relations at MetroHealth, said the proposed tree line is not square and will vary from a few feet in some places to a depth of more than 40 feet in others.

“The important thing is that we are looking at less than three quarters of a morning,” said Frolik. “Some of it is hardly in the forest. There is currently a lot of grass. And even when we’re done, there will still be well over 600 feet of forest between the new tree line and our closest neighbors to the east. “

Under the terms of the proposed derogation, the city would require a minimum buffer zone of 150 feet.

Sierra Club concerns

The proposal was also considered by the Sierra Club’s Northeast Ohio Group, with secretary and sustainability specialist Linda Sekura doing the math Google Earth that the sum of the remaining deep forest stands at about 24 hectares.

These estimates may not include the 6 acres MetroHealth owns, with Frolik saying it is closer to 30 acres of total forest.

“The best value of the severance forest is that it is a holdover from the original mature forest,” said Sekura. “It’s not a primeval forest that was cut down decades ago like most forests in Ohio, but was cut down a long time ago to recover.”

Sekura argues that in this day and age, forest restoration is next to impossible given the amount of invasive plants, pests, and diseases that abound.

MetroHealth officials are proposing that native trees be replanted for any large trees felled in a 0.75 acre section of Severance Forest.

“Intact ecosystems are precious and rare, and this needs our responsibility, not further fragmentation,” added Sekura. “It is incomprehensible that each of these forests, including old trees, is being felled while there are 50 acres of underutilized paved parking spaces in the immediate vicinity.”

She was referring to the expanse of the parking lot across the street, where opponents of the MetroHealth plan were further considering drawing up a contract with the current owners of the Severance town center.

“Residents point out that there is a flood of unused parking spaces directly across from Severance Circle from the hospital where MetroHealth could rent rooms from the mall,” said Van Kleef. “But that option was immediately rejected by MetroHealth and the planning committee.”

Frolik said all of these avenues were explored and then discussed in front of the planning commission and control committee for about six hours.

“We had already looked at all the alternatives in the design,” said Frolik on Monday. “If we had found a way to do this without cutting any trees at all, we would have done it.”

Van Kleef noted that the possibility of installing a zebra crossing and light to protect staff and patients crossing the street was not addressed.

“I drive this ring road several times a week and it’s hardly an expressway,” she said of the largely empty shopping center.

Frolik and MetroHealth hope the hospital expansion project will bring such a necessary improvement “Cleveland Heights can be proud of” that will act as a catalyst for the revitalization of Severance.

“Green it up”

Resident Susan Miller claims that the remaining forest area is also home to the headwaters of the Severance Brook, which flows into the river Dugway Brook Watershed.

“Unfortunately, our Ohio regulations do not adequately protect these smaller wetland systems and there are too many workarounds for development,” said Sekura. “Also, as I was told, this forest has riddled its streams and other hydrological manipulations.”

Regarding the composition, Sekura pointed out that beeches are generally only found in mature, intact forests. And there are many in Severance Woods, along with shagbark hickories, which make good homes for federally endangered Indiana bats, though the bats have not been spotted in the immediate area.

However, it is mostly a full-grown oak and hickory forest with beech and sugar maple in the undergrowth. This system shows many indicators of a “rich ancient forest” which probably covered much of the area before development.

“Our position, specifically for this project, is that this is the last remaining ‘Deep Forest’ of the original Severance Estate (as we are told) and also the last section of the Deep Forest in Cleveland Heights (according to Google Earth)”, so Sekura said.

Metrohealth with severance pay

While opponents of the MetroHealth logging proposal and the variance argue that there is ample parking available at Severance Town Center across the street, renting these spaces may not be as easy as it sounds.

“It’s barely attached, obviously deteriorating – and should be maintained and nursed back to health rather than further stressed and fragmented,” she added. “We cannot afford to lose just a piece of the forest – for another parking lot that is completely unnecessary.”

Frolik said the new lot will add 52 spaces for staff, but the reconfiguration will also create an ambulance lane instead of letting them drive across the parking lot.

“While losing trees is terrible, we hope that with the replanting, even the most critical people say we did the best we could,” added Frolik.

In addition to minimizing the forests to be removed, MetroHealth plans to re-green them and replace any large trees with native species as details are being worked out with the Sierra Club and the Cleveland Tree Coalition.

“We are looking for ways to protect as much as possible, and if we didn’t have that deviation, we would have to have 700 parking spaces (under the city’s zone code),” said Frolik of the possibility of cutting more forest around the path for 300 to free up more places, in contrast to the 52 now proposed.

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