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Cleveland's Little Italy apartment project battle heading to zoning board

Posted at 9:28 PM, Jan 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-31 23:18:56-05

CLEVELAND — The 18-month public battle to build a 44-unit apartment complex in Cleveland's historic Little Italy neighborhood will reach a crescendo during the upcoming Cleveland Board of Zoning Appeals meeting on Feb. 3.

The board is expected to vote on two key zoning variances which would allow the project to move forward, but some residents living near the Cornell Road building site maintain the project will be too large a disruption in their classic east side neighborhood.

Mark Singer said the project needs to be scaled back even further, even though developer Michael Panzica reduced the number of units from 60 to just 44 last summer.

“The building is a monstrosity, it is almost the size of football field," Singer said. "It’s like sticking a cruise ship in Shaker Lakes. There needs to be at this time a moratorium. There are so many rentals in this area and no one has done a study yet on how many are occupied or not occupied."

Other homeowners, like Lucy Anne Columbus, believe the project will detract from the historic significance of the area and set-up some potential safety concerns.

“We’re concerned about the emergency vehicles which come down Cornell now on a regular basis, what are they going to do now, how are they going to be redirected," Columbus said. “It not only detracts from the three homes that surround this 44 suite building that they’re going to put up, but it also impacts the atmosphere on the neighborhood. Just don’t ruin the character of it. There are not enough historical spots, so please preserve the ones that are here."

Michael Panzica, President of M. Panzica Development, said he's been extremely receptive to the needs of the neighborhood, scaling back the project and earning Cleveland Landmarks Commission approval in August.

Panzica said his effort to reach out to the Little Italy community has included four public meetings, allowing residents to express their concerns.

“I think we’ve shown a very strong willingness to work with this community,” Panzica said. “I think we’ve come a long way in pleasing the majority and we think it will ultimately bring bodies and residents to this neighborhood to support a lot of the restaurants and shops.”

Ray Kristosik, Executive Director of Little Italy Redevelopment, said the project is a better fit than it was when it was first proposed more than two years ago.

Cleveland Councilman Blaine Griffin said he's watching the process carefully and is holding on making final judgment, as the zoning board goes over the development proposal.

Still, residents like Chris Rander who are living near the construction site believe the project is clearly a detriment to the quality of life in that neighborhood.

"It's right in the middle, taking up all this space, it’s going to dwarf anything around it and we think it’s too much," Rander said. “Please do not grant the variances, it’s too big, it needs to be rethought.”