ohio supreme court says voters should be allowed to decide oakwood rezoning on election day

With the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Ohio that South Euclid voters should be allowed to vote on a rezoning referendum this fall, the controversial Oakwood Commons big box retail project has taken yet another interesting turn.

Citizens for Oakwood, a group that opposes the redevelopment of the former Oakwood Country Club into retail, collected over 600 petition signatures earlier this year to place a referendum on the ballot. Yet the group was dealt a blow this summer when their petition was disqualified due to a legal technicality.

According to a protest filed by developer First Interstate Properties, a set of pre-petition documents were not filed with the correct City of South Euclid department. The city agreed with the developer, and decided that the referendum was invalid and could not be placed on the ballot. Citizens for Oakwood filed a lawsuit, and the matter ended up before the Supreme Court of Ohio.

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court sided with Citizens for Oakwood and directed South Euclid to repeal the rezoning decision or put it on the November ballot.

“The Court granted a writ of mandamus to compel council to either repeal a zoning amendment ordinance or submit it to a vote of the city’s electors on Nov. 8,” according to the announcement on the Ohio Supreme Court website.

“We’re very grateful that the Supreme Court of Ohio has upheld a basic tenet of our government — people’s right to vote,” says Fran Mentch of Citizens for Oakwood. “Clearly, First Interstate is fighting this because they realize they’ve met their match in the will of the people of South Euclid.”

South Euclid City Council unanimously approved the rezoning in June. That allows First Interstate, which bought 62 acres of the Oakwood land that lies in South Euclid in December, to build a mix of retail and residential properties there. First Interstate has also offered to set aside a portion of the property for parkland.

First Interstate has argued that the development will benefit the City of South Euclid with needed tax revenues and will provide additional retail to an underserved inner suburban area. Citizens for Oakwood has said there is too much retail in the area already and the property should be turned into a park.

On Monday, First Interstate filed a request for reconsideration of the Oakwood ruling with the Supreme Court, leaving open the possibility that it could be reversed.

If the ruling stands, then South Euclid voters will have the opportunity to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on Nov. 8th regarding their support for the rezoning of Oakwood for a mixed-use retail development.

Fresh Water Cleveland, 9/15/11

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