By Sue Botos
The owners of Joe’s Deli took it in stride when the planning commission turned down their 2008 request for a driveway at the rear of their property off of Rockcliff Drive.
But now Joe and Jeanette Kanaan contend they are responding to their customers’ request for a safer alternative to turning left onto busy Hilliard Road, and will do what it takes to make the driveway happen.
Attorney David Matty, representing the Kanaans, spoke at length during the commission’s January meeting, stating several times that the couple has only the safety of their patrons, many of whom are elderly, at heart and seeks no personal gain. He said that at a pre-preliminary hearing in October, he presented the commission with a petition signed by 483 Joe’s customers requesting a second driveway. The Kanaans have been publicly mum on the subject, speaking through their representatives.
Noting that the area on Rockcliff, including the home directly across from the proposed driveway site, has been zoned commercial since 1973, Matty pointed out that the Kanaans already made the area more attractive when they built a new version of the popular Rocky River eatery, opened in 1992 in a former Kenny King’s restaurant, at the corner of Wooster and Hilliard roads. “They have done everything requested by the city and the neighbors. They have installed a black ornamental fence and landscape screening. This is a benefit for them and adjacent property,” Matty said. He added that moving the restaurant closer to the intersection and farther away from residences alleviated some problems, such as dumpster location and delivery truck noise.
Matty went on to describe a detailed traffic study, conducted at the Kanaans’ expense, which showed that the present Hilliard driveway fell short of ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) safety guidelines. He said the sight line for vehicles turning left onto Hilliard was only 185 feet, as opposed to the 475 feet suggested by ODOT. Also, he said traffic heading west out of the driveway only had that 185 feet to stop before reaching the Hilliard-Wooster intersection, as opposed to the ODOT recommended 305 feet.
Additionally, based on a traffic count, the study concluded that the number of cars projected to use a back driveway “is so minimal compared to the number of cars now on Wooster and Hilliard,” Matty stated.
Both the city police and fire departments have requested an additional access to the property, Matty reported, quoting fire Chief Chris Flynn as stating that the second drive would be seen “in a positive light” and provide better access to emergency vehicles. Safety forces also pointed out that an alternative exit would be beneficial if the Hilliard access were blocked.
According to police records, Matty reported that four accidents took place in front of the restaurant between 2011 and 2012, all of which occurred during the “peak” time between 5 and 6:30 p.m.
Taking a defensive stand, Matty stated that by law, a business owner may create an access to a public street from their property without a variance. He noted that other city restaurants such as nearby Ferris Steakhouse, King Wah and the Rustic all have driveways off of residential streets. Ferris has access from both Wooster and Rockcliff. “If we have to enforce the law, we will do so,” he attested.
Commission Chairman William Bishop questioned whether the traffic study included pedestrian or bicycle traffic, which uses Rockcliff to get in and out of the Cleveland Metroparks, the only such access in the city. Matty said he was “unaware of any pedestrian issue” on the street. Bishop suggested an access for emergency vehicles only as a compromise.
Prior to the public comment portion of the meeting, Bishop asked for a show of hands to determine who, among the audience of about 50, was for or against the driveway proposal. Although the result looked to be about 50-50, more spoke against the proposal than for it, mostly expressing concern over the already snarled traffic in the area.
Ward 4 Councilman John Shepherd remarked that there was a feeling of deja vu. “I thought this was done the last time it was in front of the planning commission and board of zoning appeals. The residents supported the plan, they embraced Joe’s, it seemed like a deal,” he said, adding that even a slight uptick in traffic would be too much. He recalled waiting about six minutes in the middle of a weekday to get through the Hilliard-Wooster intersection.
“The traffic report makes no sense to me,” he stated.
Andy Calladine, owner of the home directly across from the proposed driveway site, added that the study does not reflect the many “near misses” on Rockcliff and Hilliard. He added that pedestrian and bicycle traffic heading to and from the Metroparks had to be considered as well.
Another neighbor questioned why legal issues are being raised now that were not in 2008. “Threat is not a way for us to like Joe’s,” he commented.
The planning commission is expected to further discuss the driveway proposal at its February meeting.