Tremont hillside development plan regains life

This is a massing for two multi-family buildings proposed by J Roc Development just downslope from the Towpath Trail in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. This rendering suggests that buildings built to a proposed maximum height of 60 feet would not block views of downtown from the trail and the homes south of it. A massing is a mostly featureless box showing the potential scale of conceptual buildings in a proposed development (J Roc). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Legal resolution may clear path for rezoning

A large, proposed redevelopment of former industrial and railroad lands on a hillside in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood is showing renewed signs of life after a court battle was settled in December. That settlement involved land being divvied up so a rezoning can move forward and an asphalt plant can continue to operate. If the land is rezoned by City Council, a mostly residential development can proceed — next to the asphalt plant.

Those lengthy steps and where they could lead next were outlined today by J Roc Development representatives at a meeting of the North of Literary Block Club. The neighborhood organization heard plans for rezoning the eastern portion of a 17.5-acre parcel of land owned by J Roc affiliate Emerald Dock, LLC, located at the north end of Tremont.

That 8.55-acre portion, north of University Road and west of Literary Road, would be rezoned from a general industrial classification and a height district that allows structures up to 115 feet tall. If City Council agrees, it would be rezoned to limited local retail with an urban form overlay and building heights capped at 60 feet.

“Limited local retail with an urban form overlay allows for neighborhood development to include multi-family, townhomes, single-family residential, light commercial and retail,” read a J Roc presentation obtained by NEOtrans prior to the meeting. J Roc Principal Aaron Taylor opened but otherwise didn’t respond to an e-mail from NEOtrans seeking more information prior to publication of this article.

The parcel proposed to be rezoned and developed by J Roc Development is outlined in yellow. That parcel is part of a larger property that was split into three parcels with the smallest at upper left next to the Cuyahoga River transferred to Holcim Quarries NY. The middle parcel will continue to be leased by a J Roc affiliate to Holcim for use as part of an asphalt plant (J Roc/Cuyahoga County).

While the presentation didn’t reveal a development plan, which would come later, it noted that this zoning with the urban form overlay was used elsewhere in Cleveland to allow for recent and planned mixed-use developments. Those include Treo 2461 W. 25th St. in Tremont, plus INTRO, 2063 W. 25th, and the planned Bridgeworks, 2429 W. Superior Ave. in Ohio City.

If so, a similar style of low-rise, mixed-use development may be planned here too, offering ground-floor retail topped by apartments along Literary where the urban form overlay is proposed. Development may someday be extended northward along Literary and West 3rd Street if J Roc acquires a 3.1-acre city land bank parcel plus a 1.1-acre parcel used by Northern Chemical Blending, 360 Literary, and owned by John Zemaitis, county records show.

City Planning Commission recommended in January 2023 that Council rezone those properties to allow mixed-use development. Previously, J Roc sought to raise the building height limit in this area to 250 feet but agreed to keep it at 115 feet. Now, the developer which built the neighboring Electric Gardens and is building the Driftwood mixed-use development nearby appears content with Tremont hillside apartment buildings of six stories or less.

That should keep any new buildings from blocking views of Downtown Cleveland from the Towpath Trail along University and the homes along and south of University. The reason is the land to be rezoned north of University is 25-60 feet lower than that of the trail, and land closer to the river is 75-100 feet below the trail, according to GoogleEarth maps in terrain mode. Some residents had complained about losing their views of downtown.

Another view from the Towpath Trail in Tremont showing massings of potential max-height multi-family buildings below the hillside (J Roc).

“As someone who lives on West 10th (Street) and enjoys the beautiful view of our city that North of Literary provides, I’m interested in what they have to say,” said block club co-chair Kathleen Sullivan. “For the interest of our neighbors, we will make sure to have our councilman and a representative from the Metroparks at any upcoming block club meetings about this building’s development moving forward.”

Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack did not respond to a text message from NEOtrans seeking comment.

“A primary organizing principle of the site layout is the engagement to the towpath by way of a landscaped embankment,” as J Roc’s presentation described its proposed vision for the site. “The elevation of the public towpath above the site allows for substantially unobstructed views of the city skyline, and its many bridges. The project envisions multiple connection points from the site to the towpath and vice-versa, knitting this once-industrial site back to the vibrancy and activity of the Tremont neighborhood.”

The J Rock-owned parcel is on a hillside “shelf” below the Towpath Trail and above the Cuyahoga River. For more than a century until the early 1980s, that shelf was the Literary Street Yard of the Erie Railroad. Since then, it has been used by Cleveland Builders Supply and later for an asphalt plant now owned by Holcim Quarries NY Inc.

Holcim filed suit in November 2022 against Emerald Dock and Penta which sold its ownership interest in Emerald Dock to J Roc. Holcim claimed its lease gave it the right of first refusal to buy the property. But J Roc didn’t buy the property; it bought the company that owned the land and argued that it could terminate Holcim’s lease to use that property or otherwise allow it to expire.

The Tremont hillside development site was the Erie Railroad’s Literary Street Yard until it was abandoned in 1981. This 1926 view looks eastward from the old Central Viaduct that stood near today’s Inner Belt (Interstate 90) George V. Voinovich Bridges (Cleveland Public Library).

Instead, the parties settled the matter out of court and Holcim filed a notice of dismissal that was accepted Dec. 21 by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John O’Donnell. Each party agreed to bear their own court costs and attorneys’ fees, the case docket shows.

As a result of the settlement, J Roc affiliate Emerald Dock would seek to rezone only the eastern portion of the Tremont hillside land and continue to lease to Holcim 8 acres of the western portion of the land for storing materials used in the asphalt plant. Emerald Dock will continue to own most of the 17.5-acre hillside parcel, according to county records.

The only portion it will not own is a 0.7-acre piece of land next to the river that was split off from the 17.5-acre parcel. It was transferred by quit-claim deed to Holcim on Feb. 15. Also on Feb. 15, Holcim acquired from LaFarge Corp. two additional riverfront parcels totaling 7.16 acres.

Chad Reel, vice president and general manager of The Shelly Co. which operates the asphalt plant, said it is the largest asphalt plant Ohio. He said the plant operates 24 hours a day and supplies upwards of 80,000 tons of asphalt to the city of Cleveland. Reel said the company would lose $1 million per year if the plant shut down.


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