By Sue Botos
After a journey that wound through the Planning Commission, the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) and City Council, a local business owner has reached the end of the line, at least temporarily, with his idea to improve a long-vacant Linda Street property.
Commercial real estate developer Matt Parnell has withdrawn his plans to raze the structure at 551 Linda St. and construct a one-story office building in its footprint. The decision came after heated debate with a neighbor at the August Planning Commission meeting.
Parnell stated he had been granted a variance by the BZA for his business, Capstone Limited, to occupy the present building, which is zoned for residential apartments. “My thought was to just go in and occupy the building,” Parnell said. However, he told the Planning Commission that once he hired architects and took a close look at the building, he found it would be too expensive to renovate.
When plans for a two-story structure were rejected by the BZA, Parnell came back to the board with a single-story alternative, which was accepted, providing the new structure fit the exact footprint of the former one.
But when investigated further, it was found that the current building encroached on the property of Joe Lombardi to the south and, according to surveys ordered by Parnell and Lombardi, the amount differs. Parnell maintains the overage amounts to only a few inches, but Lombardi told the commission that it’s more like 1 foot.
The situation is currently under review by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
Law Director Andy Bemer pointed out that since the court decision is pending, any decision on the property would be premature. “The BZA didn’t know about the encroachment when they granted the variance,” he stated.
Parnell said this places him between a rock and a hard place. “I could move the (new) building over 2 feet, but that defeats the (BZA) decision,” he said, referring to the requirement that he keep to the exact footprint.
Parnell also worried that Lombardi would not give access for work on the property’s south side.
“I just want to make a deal, but I had a lot of pushback from one neighbor,” said property owner Joe Kotosh, who attended the meeting. “There are no gutters on the house next door (Lombardi’s) and the water is getting into the foundation. This is silly. This is business. Matt wants to put up a new building and it’s been nothing but headaches,” he added. Kotosh stated that he was “not interested” in Lombarbi’s offer for the property.
“If he fixes it and makes it look nice, fine,” Lombardi said. “I think that foundation can be repaired. Repair it or tear it down,” he stated. He added that he had offered Kotosh $100,000 for the building.
But some neighbors would welcome a new structure on the property. “When we found out, we were ecstatic. That building is an eyesore,” said Mike Kennedy, who said that he and his wife, Diane, have put $1 million into a building nearby. “We need to find a way to make this work. The street has done a beautiful job of development; now we’re down to the last eyesores.”
At the April Planning Commission meeting, several members of the Rocky River Historical Society expressed concern over the building’s significance and how changes might affect the flavor of the area. Councilman at Large and former Planning Commission Chairman Mike Harvey told the commission he had recently addressed the society about proposing legislation that would protect the city’s historical structures.
“Although some properties are old, they are not all historically significant,” stated Harvey, who added that in this case, the building was not worth saving.
Parnell added that construction of a new building would cost less than renovation. Expressing his frustration, he said, “I was getting constraints from the city, now I’m getting constraints from the neighbors.”