City, JCU still at an impasse

November 19th, 2009

The Shaker Heights City Council voted unanimously on Nov. 9 to extend the interim city zoning ordinance which restricts student occupation in apartment buildings owned by John Carroll University within the city. The ordinance, which was originally passed last August, is extended for an additional 90 days.

The City wants to cap student capacity in four JCU-owned apartments: North Park Apartments, North Park Manor,  Fairpark Apartments and Fairmount Gardens. The cap restricts the number of units that can be rented to students and how many students can live in each unit.

Currently, 87 percent of units in Fairmount Gardens are occupied by students, 27 percent in North Park Manor, 22 percent in Fairpark Apartments and 12 percent in North Park Apartments. Under the ordinance students can occupy up to 50 percent of the apartment units in each building, except for Fairmount Gardens which will be capped at 87 percent student capacity.

Non-student residents have raised concerns over the increasing number of students living in the apartments, which prompted Shaker Heights to pass the ordinance after JCU and the City failed to come to an agreement over the summer.

JCU General Counsel Maria Alfaro-Lopez said that the University sent a statement to council members rather than a representative.

“We felt it was more appropriate and that we could be more complete in a written report,” said Alfaro-Lopez.

Student Union representatives were also not at the meeting.

According to Student Union President Matt Hiznay, they will focus on the relationship between JCU and University Heights and do not regularly send representatives to Shaker Heights City Council meetings.

Hiznay said, “It is unfortunate that this [situation with Shaker Heights] may occur and we will do our best to address the situation and make Shaker Heights City Council aware of the concerns of the residents that are John Carroll students.”

Non-student Shaker Heights residents were in attendance at the meeting and were given an opportunity to voice their concerns regarding students in the apartments. The increased noise levels and traffic congestion were cited as major issues for non-student residents. Also, residents fear that they will be moved out of the apartments by the University.

According to Alfaro-Lopez, there have been cases where JCU has elected not to renew a resident’s lease, but the University has never evicted anyone.

“Any other property owner could not renew a lease and there would be no problem. We’re asking to be treated like any other tax payer,” said Alfaro-Lopez.

Alfaro-Lopez said that JCU and Shaker Heights are still in discussions regarding a compromise between the two parties.

According to Shaker Heights Mayor Earl Leiken, the purpose of extending the ordinance was so that discussions between the University and City could continue before it became necessary to make the ordinance permanent.

“The discussions have not yet achieved a mutually satisfactory solution, but we are still talking to see if this can be accomplished,” said Leiken.

Director of Government Relations Dora Pruce views the extension as a positive.

“The goal at the end of the day is to reach a written agreement between the City and JCU. We welcome the opportunity for more time provided for dialogue,” said Pruce.

While Alfaro-Lopez said JCU would rather not have any ordinance and it is ill-conceived and invalid, the University understands that this is the City’s process.

“They are trying to protect their legal options and we will do what’s best for the University,” said Alfaro-Lopez.

Currently it is unclear what will happen if no agreement is reached in the extended 90 days. Whether the ordinance is further extended or it is made permanent, both JCU and Shaker Heights hope that agreement can be reached first.

Leiken has a positive outlook for the possible upcoming plans.

She said, “Although the City and John Carroll have different perspectives in this matter, both are working to maintain a positive, cooperative relationship.”