Cleveland planners OK 150-foot-tall billboard in Flats

A 150-foot-tall billboard to be built at Flats East Bank and proposed by businessman Tony George won City Planning Commission approval with little pushback. It is one of three billboards resulting from a court-enforced settlement allowing the demolition of George’s vandalized building for the Irishtown Bend Park (CPC). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

One more George billboard coming in Cleveland

Cleveland City Planning Commission today approved placing a 150-foot-tall pole-mounted billboard at a Flats East Bank property owned by an affiliate of controversial local businessman Tony George. It is the second of three billboards that George has received city permission to build in order to fulfill a court-approved settlement prior to demolishing an oft-vandalized building for the Irishtown Bend Park in Ohio City.

The vandalized, blighted building at West 25th Street and the Detroit-Superior Bridge is visible from the West Shoreway. But the new, two-faced billboard which could feature LED messages or moving louvres was approved today will be even more visible from the Shoreway. Built atop the pole, the billboard will rise above the Shoreway’s bridge over the Cuyahoga River valley.

In a 5-1 vote by Planning Commission’s Design Review Committee, four variances were approved to allow the billboard to be constructed on a property zoned as Downtown Residential. The variance requests will also have to be approved by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals. One variance was needed because a billboard is not a permitted use on residentially zoned land, said the city’s Chief Planner Shannan Leonard.

While the proposed billboard’s two sign panels will each be 14-by-48 feet, or 672 square feet, another variance was approved to exceed the city’s maximum size — 820 square feet. The site is less than 750 feet from the nearest existing billboard; 750 feet is the minimum separation allowed. And while the maximum height for structures on the property is 175 feet, billboards aren’t allowed to be more than 50 feet high. This billboard will be perched three times higher.

The base of the pole-mounted billboard will be set behind a fenced-in trash container in front of Lindey’s Lake House-Flats, 1146 Old River Rd. An alternate location was previously considered in front of George’s planned Flats East Bank development, 1198-1220 Old River. That would have put the billboard on the south side of the Shoreway, complicating George’s development and blocking views of downtown from the Shoreway.

How the proposed billboard will look to motorists traveling east on the West Shoreway (Ohio Route 2) as they head into Downtown Cleveland from the west side (CPC).

Leonard told commission members that George received approval from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and from two scenic byway groups — the Ohio & Erie Canalway Scenic Byway and the Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail. Under highway beautification laws, the Federal Highway Administration prohibits new billboards along scenic byway routes.

“They (scenic byway groups) don’t allow a lot of these things,” said architect and former planning commission chair David Bowen of Richard L. Bowen & Associates, who was representing George to the commission. “It (the billboard location) is coming from a scenic byway into a scenic byway but it’s not going to be observed by the scenic byway.”

Mayor Justin Bibb’s Administration, Cleveland Metroparks and the community development corporation Flats Forward both sent letters of support of the variance request, Bowen said. He concurred with a commission request to paint the billboard pole silver so it is less obtrusive. And Bowen said he met with neighbors of a similar billboard and believed that residents living at the Flats East Bank Apartments probably won’t even notice this one.

“I headed this up because new billboards are not like what one would think about in the past,” Bowen said. “Because of the louvres and the directional LEDs, you’re not going to really notice it.”

These are site location details for Tony George’s proposed billboard in the Flats next to the West Shoreway (CPC).

“This isn’t going to cause (car) accidents?” City Planning Commission Chair Lillian Kuri asked Bowen who reiterated that ODOT has approved it. “I just want it on the record. No accidents.”

Ward 17 Councilman Charles Slife, who also is a Planning Commission Design Review Committee member, was the lone vote in opposition to the billboard variances. He said he opposed the billboard’s proposed location.

“I think it makes the downtown-lake skyline’s beautiful view look like the (Interstate 480) Valley View Bridge,” Slife. “I know there’s an agreement for the billboards. I just don’t think this is the spot for it. There was outreach to me about a billboard near the airport in Ward 17 and I said I had no issues with it. I haven’t received any communication yet since then.”

The first of three billboard sites approved by the city is atop George’s Harry Buffalo restaurant in downtown’s Gateway District. The third location has not been determined yet. Once the third site has been approved and a building permit issued, George’s building at 1435 W. 25th St. can be demolished, according to the court settlement.

George-property-West 25thStreet-Detroit-Superior-Bridge

The George-owned property at West 25th Street and the Detroit-Superior Bridge in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood, as well as the billboard atop it, are the subjects of a court settlement the city and others are trying fulfill. This was once a Royal Castle Hamburger restaurant but has been vacant for many years (Freethink).

“We’ve been looking for billboard locations,” Bowen said. “That’s why the building (at 1435 W. 25th) is still standing. We’re still working through the terms (of the settlement).”

Leonard said the city has looked at least 30 sites for new billboards to satisfy the court settlement but the city’s billboard restrictions are “very restrictive,” she noted. Those restrictions address the placement of new billboards. Existing billboards that were added prior to the city’s restrictions are grandfathered in.

Atop George’s West 25th building is a billboard that George claims is very lucrative. In a controversial move, George acquired the West 25th property in 2018 for $248,000 through his Mortgage Investment Group as public entities were acquiring land for hill stabilization efforts prior to building the planned Irishtown Bend Park.

As part of the legal settlement, George was paid $1.25 million by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority for the 0.41-acre property, several media sources said. George will also get first crack at operating a new restaurant to be built by the Metroparks at that location as part of the Irishtown Bend Park improvements, to begin once the hillside is stabilized.


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