It's a question we all ponder, but for folks looking to settle down and establish roots, it's all about place. Neighborhood is everything and to help those searching for the right match, this Fresh Water series explores Cleveland locales that are primed for growth.
In this edition, writer Brandon Baker covers upcoming plans for the Moreland district in Shaker Heights.
Could Shaker Heights’ Moreland district become Greater Cleveland’s next must-live neighborhood?
For those looking for affordable and diverse housing stock, parks and small business opportunities with easy access to shopping, dining, public transportation and municipal amenities, the tiny grid of streets known as the Moreland district has all of that in nines.
With increased walkability, public art, community theater and block parties on the way, Shaker’s residents, government and entrepreneurs believe the Moreland district will be mentioned among Cleveland’s best places to live in the not-so-distant future.
An established neighborhood with engaged residents, Moreland is unique amid Cleveland proper and its inner-ring suburbs. The area, however, does not claim to be Larchmere 2.0 or offer the frenetic nightlife of West 25th Street.
“A lot of those are highly commercial areas, and they lend themselves to one type of approach,” says Kamla Lewis, Shaker Heights director of the city's Neighborhood Revitalization
department, when asked how Moreland might compare to other popular neighborhoods. “When you have an established neighborhood, you’ve got to look at what your assets are. It’s a different type of approach you’re going to have.
“There definitely is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ with neighborhoods,” she adds.
"A neighborhood is its people."
Home to less than five percent of both the city’s population and households, Moreland is a small but unique slice of Shaker Heights, of which it became a part in 1919. Before that, it was known as Eastview Village.
While Lewis says residents identified nearby retail sectors as part of the district back in September at the initial Moreland Neighbor Night, Moreland is largely comprised of five north-south residential roads, including Chelton, Hildana, Ludgate, Pennington and Menlo, which are tucked away between the Chagrin-Lee intersection and the Cleveland border. It's a somewhat hidden slice of Shaker Heights.
Beautiful old tree lined streets in the Moreland district in Shaker Heights
About 80 percent of Shaker’s land is dedicated to residential use, according to a housing survey from Mentor-based CT Consultants
. The Moreland district is similar, aside from the adjacent retail, small businesses and the entrepreneurial hub LaunchHouse
in the old Zalud Oldsmobile dealership on Lee Road. Lewis believes the district is “on the cusp” of achieving must-live status, but attracting more development and residents is first on the list.
Moreland continues to recover from the foreclosure crisis, during which, says Lewis, one in every four homes in the neighborhood went into foreclosure. Considering that Shaker Heights garners 90 percent of its property taxes from residential properties, the situation in Moreland reverberated throughout the city. Nonetheless, this is a comeback kid.
“This was a seriously hard-hit neighborhood, but that doesn’t have to mean the death knell of a neighborhood. To me, a neighborhood is its people," says Lewis. "This neighborhood has shown that over and over again.”
To get more good people into the area, last month, city council moved to allow the city to apply to have the state designate the Moreland district as a Community Reinvestment Area (CRA
) that will offer 100 percent tax abatement on new, residential single-family construction for 10 years. Pending state approval, the minimum investment construction amount within the CRA would be $125,000.
Currently, 85 of the neighborhood’s 594 parcels are vacant lots. Given the right components, those vacant lots can spell unprecedented opportunity. That underdeveloped space, combined with the tax abatement’s potential, is fueling hope for new development and the residents it would attract – as well as their tax dollars.
“If one is to look at anything positive that has come out of the housing crisis, it’s that we now have these lots that allow us to diversify our housing stock,” Lewis says. "We can have some more construction to meet the needs of the people who want that. We can have some more houses with first-floor masters that are accessible so that people can come and age in place." Notably, that trend of baby boomers moving into more urban spaces, to which Lewis alludes, is one that's catching fire
“We can do things that, before, we would have totally been unable to do simply because there were houses there,” she adds.
The Stephanie Tubbs Jones Community Bldg. & Shaker Heights Library
Lewis says the city has been in discussions with four or five developers about potential housing projects and aims to issue "requests for proposals" this summer once the CRA process has been completed at the state level.
“No matter how good [Shaker Heights developers] the Van Sweringens were and how greatly planned Shaker Heights is, they could not predict the kinds of needs we would have today,” Lewis says. “Cities always have to be looking at reenergizing their housing and neighborhoods.
“I think that’s an ongoing thing," she adds, "and it’s no different for this neighborhood.”
Boomers, Books and a Blue Line
When those houses arrive, the residents inside them – be they boomers who want a more urban living experience (and a smaller lawn) or families just starting out – will be within steps of a Cleveland favorite: Heinen's Grocery Store
and the main branch of the Shaker Heights Library
, as well as the city's municipal buildings, including the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Community Building, wherein a number of senior programs
Those new residents will also be just down the road from the forthcoming Van Aken District,
which is garnering tenants such as Luna Bakery Café
, Mitchell’s Ice Cream
, Rising Star Coffee
; and less than two miles from the vibrant Shaker Square
, with its famed eateries, eclectic shopping and movie theaters.
Families will enjoy parks
right in the Moreland district such as the Menlo Tot Lot and Chelton Park, which cater to toddlers and kids up to 12, respectively. Other public amenities include a pool
and ice-skating rink
at Thornton Park
, the active Shaker Heights Historical Society
, and the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes
. University School
and Hathaway Brown School
are both nearby private school options, while the public Mercer Elementary School
services kids from Moreland and is part of the robust Shaker Heights Schools
The Moreland district is also immediately adjacent to the Lee Van Aken Station
on RTA's Blue Line
that conveniently connects residents to the rest of the city and the Red Line
, which goes all the way to the airport.
Hence, Moreland is essentially connected to points across the country and the world at large.
Neighbor Connections on the Rise
Following the Neighbor Nights that began last fall, Moreland residents like MeShelle Barclay and Harry Levine banded together to develop events and programs designed to breed familiarity between neighbors. The group continues ironing out details for a July 9 block party on Ludgate Road in the middle of the district, during which the street will be closed off, giving residents a chance to freely enjoy entertainment and a community connection.
Levine, a retired resident who has lived in the district for 13 years, is among those organizing the block party. He says that connecting with neighbors is chief among the group’s efforts and programming ideas.
“If [a block party] is done right, you get to know your neighbors,” he says. “The more you know your neighbors, the safer it is and more pleasant it is to live in the neighborhood.”
The district also has a neighborhood-wide yard sale planned for June 4 and 5, which is posted on the group’s Facebook page
. Neighbors are also holding auditions for a community theater production, “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder. A festival centered around front porches, an asset many homes in the district have, is in the ideation stage and may resemble the Larchmere Porch Fest.
“Maybe this is the beginning of us trying to reinvest [into the area],” Barclay says. “The block party will be fun, but it’s going to take more. It won’t happen overnight.”
Public Art and Culture, Organically Grown
Aside from the events that neighborhood groups are planning, the city is set to work with groups like the Cleveland Urban Design Collective (CUDC
) and Ingenuity
to bring more arts into the area. The new plan is to initiate programming in underutilized spaces while fostering more engagement.
Ingenuity’s tasks will include facilitating a public art process and/or design competitions and assisting the city’s recreation department with providing programming. The CUDC seeks to replicate a project it performed in Cleveland’s Buckeye neighborhood that involved repurposing vacant lots and enlisting and training
high school and middle school students from the community as the designers and constructors of their own playscapes.
Steve Manka sculpture on Lee Rd.
“When I heard about the project that the CUDC did in the Buckeye neighborhood, I thought ‘wow, here is something that serves so many purposes,’” Lewis says. “It is so important for us as adults and children to really feel that this is our neighborhood. We can be the ones who figure out how it should operate.”
The city has contracted with the two entities for about $115,000 combined.
Notably, the effort comes on the heels of the successful Lee/Lomond Streetscape Project,
which reconfigured the intersection, upgraded the landscaping and sidewalks, and added crosswalks and public art by Stephen Manka
Lee Road: Opportunity Corridor
No two revitalized neighborhoods will look the same, but they can share some similarities in the process and types of people working to make spaces better. Shaker Heights Development Corp. (SHDC
) executive director Nick Fedor is reminded of this as he compares the Moreland district to the work done in his previous job with the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization
“There is a very strong core group of stakeholders who really have a vision for what the community can become and a really strong sense of collaboration to work together and achieve those shared goals and objectives,” Fedor says of both neighborhoods. “That’s really what it takes, in terms of being successful for neighborhood revitalization and for community and economic development.”
As a nonprofit organization working alongside the city in boosting the Moreland district, the SHDC seeks to build upon the collection of businesses already on Lee Road, including stalwart firms such as FASS Real Estate Services
, Shaker Animal Clinic
, Eldridge Tax Services
and Acme Exterminating Co
, which has been around for more than 45 years. Fedor aims to attract additional IT, health and other knowledge-based economy firms to be their neighbors.
Once again, the nearly 30 percent commercial vacancy rate on Lee Road holds a world of opportunity.
“We feel that will go a long way in transforming the corridor, in terms of just having more people working in the area, getting more people active in the area,” Fedor says. “If there’s more people working there, then we feel that the more traditional retail and restaurant storefronts that you see at the Kingsbury building, on the south side of Chagrin Boulevard and even in Shaker Town Center, over time those become much more attractive and interesting retail options.”
Also LaunchHouse will surely play a key role in the district’s economic future, although the entity's lease and managerial status is in transition.
Ron Lloyd, president and founder of RDL Architects
on Chagrin Boulevard says he thinks much of the district’s untapped potential lies on Lee Road. He and Lewis both hope other firms follow a path similar to that of RDL, which moved to Shaker about a decade ago and has since grown its workforce to the point of needing a new parking lot. The firm also garnered a spot on the 2015 Crain's 52 list
as one of northeast Ohio's fastest growing companies. An involved community member, RDL also collaborated with residents and designed the renovation of Library Court Senior Housing
about three years ago.
Lloyd deems the district a “bedroom community,” but would like to see that change. He doesn’t see a Tremont-type district in Moreland’s future, but he is hopeful that the development of some entertainment could attract dining venues – and dollars – to the district.
“What they lack here is some sort of entertainment component, whether it be more restaurants or something,” he says. “I think it’s just a matter of someone taking a shot at it," he says, adding that affordable commercial property abounds along Lee Road. "If I were a [Michael] Symon, I would put a couple of restaurants there and kick start that.”
The Moreland district improvement plans represent the largest portion of the city’s comprehensive Housing and Neighborhood Plan
and cross over various city departments and budgets. It’s not the type of undertaking that will produce immediate results. However, it has produced immediate engagement and hope, which, in turn excites city officials.
“Innovation and ideas—that’s the way we want this area to be perceived,” Lewis says. “If you want to live somewhere where they’re willing to be creative, this is it.”
Further reading: The next must-live neighborhood is .... the Campus District, July 2015; Larchmere, March 2014 and Collinwood, January 2013.
The City of Shaker Heights is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.