PEPPER PIKE, Ohio – Woodmere Mayor Ben Holbert has many reasons to smile these days, and he happily discussed them at the Orange Board of Education’s meeting with the mayors Wednesday (April 28).
Holbert, a former Woodmere councilman who has been the village’s mayor since January 2018, has seen such a positive transformation on Woodmere Village Council that he has decided to seek re-election in November.
“I’m going to be throwing my hat back into the ring for another term,” he said at the school board’s meeting with the mayors of the district’s five primary municipalities, held on Zoom video and live-streamed on the Orange Schools’ website.
Things weren’t looking so rosy for Holbert just a few months ago. He was frustrated at Village Council’s repeated voting against legislation that would allow a sidewalk project called the Woodmere Chagrin Valley Gateway Pedestrian Trail to move forward.
That legislation would enable the village to accept grant funding totaling $265,000 to be used to develop sidewalks between Woodmere and Orange on Brainard Road, between Waterford Court and Chagrin Boulevard.
But on Feb. 23, a special election was held in which four Woodmere Village Council members were recalled.
When the election results became official March 12, former council president Jennifer Mitchell Earley and council members Lisa Brockwell, Glenda Todd Miller and Craig Wade were voted out. Those four were the council members who consistently voted against the pedestrian trail legislation.
The three remaining council members – Nakeshia Nickerson, Tennyson Adams and Vivian Walker – were tasked with selecting replacements.
The four new council members are Nicole Culliver, Hilman Lindsey, Waymond Scott and Seth Young. Culliver is council’s new president, and Young is the new finance chair, Holbert said.
At the new council’s first meeting April 14, it passed legislation on not only the pedestrian trail, but also the village’s website, which Holbert said had not been active for over a year.
Holbert said the new sidewalks will be on the western portion of Brainard Road and will connect into Orange.
“The great part about that is it gives the people who live in Orange the ability to walk through Woodmere and go up to Chagrin Boulevard, and it gives the people who live in Woodmere the opportunity to walk over to Pinecrest (in Orange),” he said. “So we’re excited.”
Holbert said Village Engineer Edward Hren has started survey work on the project and is “trying to get that fast-tracked.” The target is to complete the construction by mid-September, he said.
“So the $265,000 that we received from the county and the state (via grants) will actually go to use,” he said, smiling. “Thank you.”
The village’s new website will be unveiled on Saturday (May 1), as the legislation approved by council allows the creation of a web designer position.
“That’s very important because during the height of COVID, we couldn’t provide our residents with any information or updates (via the website),” Holbert said. “So we’re pretty happy to have that.”
In addition, Holbert said the village has applied for a grant with Cuyahoga County to put digital signage in front of Village Hall, “so we can start to make sure that our residents are aware of activities and events and emergency information.”
“For two years, just to be honest, it was very difficult,” he said. “We were struggling to try to make improvements within the village.
“I’m hoping with this brand-new council – the three who remain and the four coming on board – that we’ll be able to communicate and move forward.”
In October, Orange Village Council passed a resolution urging Woodmere council to accept the grant funding earmarked for the pedestrian trail.
“When you have a council you can work with, it’s fine,” Orange Mayor Kathy U. Mulcahy told Holbert after he said he had decided to seek re-election.
Update on Moreland Commons
Moreland Hills Mayor Daniel Fritz provided an update on the Moreland Commons housing development. He said the 21-acre site – located off Chagrin Boulevard, between Lander Circle and State Route 91 – could accommodate up to 90 new homes, but currently the plan is to build in the mid- to upper 60s.
“We’re up to about nine homes now (that have been built),” he said. “Several are in construction, and various homes are in a design-on-approval phase.
“Thus far they all appear to be empty nesters. Construction and purchasing is taking place at an accelerated level now.”
Fritz noted the project is located across from the Orange Schools campus.
“We hope we haven’t been too much of an inconvenience to the school district,” he said. “Hopefully we won’t have too much of an impact on (the schools) moving forward.”
Fritz said the developer, Axiom Development Group, is not building model homes, and the project had been moving “quite slowly” through the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we saw an increase in the pace once the infrastructure was actually placed inside the roads and the curbs,” he said. “People were able to drive through and actually see the lots, as opposed to just having to look at a map.
“I think once you were able to drive through that development, it became a little bit easier to sell the lots.”
Ground was broken in 2019 on the housing development, which will feature a combination of single-family homes and townhouses.
“I know many of these developments are going to draw empty nesters, but we know that it will still affect our enrollment a little bit,” board member Beth Wilson-Fish said. “We’re going to see our numbers go up, and that’s a good thing.”
More housing coming in Orange
In Orange, Mulcahy said she expects plans for the Pinecrest residential project to start rolling out over next few months.
She noted a group headed by local real estate developer Randy Kertesz acquired the former Beachwood Inn property in a sheriff’s sale via public auction in February. The property is located next to Pinecrest, and that transaction will result in a different entrance into that mixed-use development, she said.
“It could be as much as 390 units,” Mulcahy said. “It’s supposed to be mostly townhouse/villa-type things, but they’re also trying to throw in some apartment buildings.
“So I’m not thrilled. I don’t know how that will play out.”
In addition, Mulcahy said several new homes are being approved every month at the Lakes of Orange housing development, near Brainard and Miles roads.
“I get the sense that most of them are empty nesters, and a lot of them are residents already who are moving into that development, although there are some families with children there,” she said.
“They did add a Phase 7 to Lakes of Orange, which adds another 49 units to the original 150. They’re just selling like hotcakes; it’s amazing.”
Pepper Pike Mayor Richard Bain said regarding his city’s housing situation, 32 new home permits were pulled last year.
“Our total of new home and renovation permits value is just under $20 million,” he said. “So hopefully that gets picked up by (Cuyahoga) County, and that should result in some new revenue for the schools.”
Hunting Valley Mayor Bruce Mavec said things were quiet in his village.
Praise from Pepper Pike mayor
Bain praised the Orange school board and administration for how it has weathered the storm during the pandemic.
“All the villages and (Pepper Pike) have dealt with the COVID routine and the pandemic for the last year-plus, and we face our own challenges, keeping our staffs operational and delivering services,” he said.
“The (Orange) school board and administration faced a very different task, where your impact was how do you keep (nearly 2,000 students) operational and going to school. I know it’s been really challenging for you.
“But the board and the administration, you guys have always appeared to me to be open to a conversation with the community about it, and I think you’ve done a marvelous job of trying to balance some extraordinarily challenging and novel problems that you did not anticipate and didn’t ask for,” he continued.
“At least as we seem to be emerging from this, we should not let it pass without congratulating you on a job well done.”
Wilson-Fish thanked Bain for his kind words.
“Our administration has been wonderful through this,” she said. “Our teachers and staff have been wonderful, and the power of the community forums that were held … to have community forums where our administrative staff continued to answer those tough questions from residents for hours.
“I give all of the credit to our staff in the school district for what they did. It was really quite impressive, compared to other school districts.”
Superintendent Lynn Campbell said he’s very proud of the district’s administrative team, “the way they were able to pivot so many times, and our families who rolled with us.”
“There were moments when it became very stressful, but I’d say overwhelmingly, the comments (from residents) were positive,” he said. “We delivered what I feel was a very successful program during our remote learning, which was not ideal.
“Thanks for everything the villages have done to keep our kids safe.”
Enrollment remains stable
Campbell addressed district enrollment, noting it has been “very consistent” in recent years.
He displayed a graph that indicated enrollment of “residents actually attending school” has remained at around 1,900 students since 2017. As of March 1, it was at 1,892.
“There’s been a lot of discussion throughout remote learning about whether there was a concern about a mass exodus or us losing (a lot of) students, and that wasn’t the case,” he said.
“We did lose some kids, primarily our kindergarten numbers. Some parents said a remote kindergarten was not of interest, but they intend to be here in person for first grade, and we have gained some back.”
Campbell said he is hopeful the district will have a traditional start to the 2021-22 school year.
“If the data trends stay the way they are, we expect a full in-person model for next year,” he said. “The goal is to get everybody back and continue with our mitigation strategies and get back to our typical practices as much as possible.”