By Sue Botos
A historic building on Linda Street, which has gathered cobwebs or been used as storage for decades, may be given new life if city officials can untangle a web of zoning restrictions.
Commercial real estate developer Matt Parnell expressed his intention to the city planning commission at its May meeting to move his office to what was once a general store at 551 Linda Street. However, the property must be rezoned from apartment to office use. He said an 1,800-square-foot-house, also on the lot, would be rented.
An ordinance requesting the change has received the first of three required readings by City Council and the measure was referred to the planning commission for further discussion.
“Spot zoning is not cohesive with the master plan,” commented commission chairman William Bishop, citing the fact that the parcel is surrounded by homes on either side, and a condominium complex across the street. He said that it could become “problematic” to slip small businesses into the mix.
However, Parnell, owner of Capstone Limited, stated that the master plan actually does call for “mixed usage” in the “downtown” area of the city as well as conservation of older structures. He quoted the document, highlighting passages which state that historic buildings should be preserved, and that 551 Linda Street was shown as being protected.
“The master plan is a guideline, not a parcel-by-parcel code,” said Bishop, during an exchange of words between Parnell and commission members. He added that in May of 2010, a new city development code was put in place to supplement the master plan, which was approved in 2005.
Law Director Andy Bemer stated that spot zoning is “judicially created” on an individual basis. Usually, support of neighbors is necessary in these cases.
But for Parnell, winning over the neighbors does not seem to be a problem, as several came to the meeting in his support. In the past, they had balked at proposals for commercial use of the structure.
Resident and Rocky River Historical Society board member Tom Barrett’s Lake Road property abuts the Linda Street lot, and he feels that it’s time something is done to maintain the building and house.
Giving a brief history of the building, he said it was constructed in the late 1800s as a general store, a function it served until 1938. It was eventually bought by the Daniels Family who did little with the structure, until the 1980s when it was renovated as an engineering office. Barrett said that it has been empty or used as storage for about 30 years.
Because the structure has not been continually used as an office and the zoning for the area has changed there can be no grandfathering of usage. However, the commission said it could continue to be used for storage.
“You could store a 55-gallon drum of ‘sodium nastycide’ in there, but if you let him put in a desk and a computer it would be noncompliant. Isn’t there some way we can give this man some variance to use this as an office building?” asked Barrett. He added that this would be a win/win proposition, as the building would be preserved and would generate taxable income.
Bemer explained that , according to code, if a building has not been used for a purpose for six months and the zoning changes, the owner must “demonstrate intent” before a judge that the structure was always to maintain its former use.
Planning commission members said they had no problem with Parnell’s plan; however, the technicalities of the situation had to be worked out before final approval is given. Parnell told the commission that the former store needed renovation work, and that he would preserve its historic feel “to a certain extent,” adding that he will “change the facade a bit” so it would not look out of character.
The commission tabled the measure and referred it to the board of zoning appeals.