CLEVELAND – A walk through Cleveland’s Little Italy in 2021 allows visitors to time travel through Cleveland’s history if they know where to look. That is why Little Italy Redevelopment Corporation is working on an updated environmental plan to better guide developers so that future projects in that environment reflect what the community wants.
The buildings that have defined Mayfield Road for a century still stand tall. The businesses and the people who live in them are some of the few things that have changed over the years.
“Incredible, that’s why I live here,” said Issac Reifler who works at Presti Bakery and has lived in Little Italy for six years.
If the buildings that make up the environment are the ingredients, then the final dish is the feeling pedestrians get when they walk the sidewalk.
In recent years, Little Italy has seen some new ingredients.
Currently, the former Washington Place Bistro is being converted into 12 new apartments with a large building standing directly behind it after a the fight dragged on through the Cleveland approval process.
“How do you balance the new and the old?” asked the Executive Director of Little Italy Redevelopment Corporation, Ray Kristosik.
New Ward Plan
The answer came from Little Italy Redevelopment Company Board Member Matt Wymer and RDL ArchitectsGreg Soltis.
“The plan is about preserving the environment,” said Soltis.
A revamped neighborhood plan is being developed with extensive input from community members, local businesses, and visitors as well as Little Italy. It costs $ 25,000 to put together, which Christosik says it covers Cleveland Foundation and American sons and daughters from Italy. You can take group surveys here.
The group plans to present a final document stating what residents would like to see in the city’s new developments in the next few months so that new projects can be implemented to that standard.
“It is imperative for Little Italy Redevelopment Corporation to engage residents and stakeholders to develop a new plan to protect this historic district in Cleveland,” said Ward 6 Cleveland City Council Member Blaine Griffin, which represents Little Italy. “I have reviewed the plan and I am confident that the plan includes old voice, generation home owners and property owners. The updated plan also harnesses the energy of new residents and stakeholders who call Little Italy Home. “
“It’s a community and they need to have input about what’s going on here,” Wymer said.
Soltis, whose family has lived in Little Italy for generations, said the main challenge was outdated zoning codes across Cleveland. He said they were founded in the 1920s with the aim of separating living quarters from work when manufacturing was common and dirty.
A century later, its loud production and pollution are no longer a concern of CLE and the community is embracing mixed-use projects with retail on the ground floor and above the living area. But outdated code doesn’t allow for that.
“It sets the conditions under which the developer has to go ask multiple variants to build something suitable and then you open up this Pandora’s Box about what we can do, what we can’t do because it all depends on the variance,” Soltis said.
When everything is up for debate, the project can broaden the boundaries of what fits in the environment and what the community wants to see.
That’s what Christosic says is happening with the project under construction right now on the corner of Cornell Road and Murray Hill Road. The Little Italy Master Plan, which is not changed by the new environmental plan, calls for more congestion in certain parts of the environment.
“So they took that path to build what they wanted to build there and that was not the intention of the plan,” Kristosik said. “But it wasn’t spelled out and it led them in that direction.”
The way Little Italy tries to protect against similar problems in the future is by approaching “form-based code“Not a code based on the use of the building or project.
“It means that what you see … is what matters,” said Soltis. The experience on the sidewalk, the mix of uses, textures and the great things it creates [Little Italy] great place to take a walk. “
“The mass and scale of the building and the street scene [form-based code] “It’s really charm and what creates the trait,” Wymer said.
That process means cataloging the materials that have made Little Italy the way it is, such as single-family homes, duplexes, multi-purpose buildings, and live-work so that when developers come in the future, they have a better idea for it. Where to start.
“It will be like a guidebook,” said Soltis. “The expectation is much clearer so there’s no, ‘Oh, I have to get lots of variety to do anything because the environment is illegal according to code.’
Soltis said he saw family members in some of the historic images the project drew for research since his grandparents and other family members lived and worked in the neighborhood decades ago. The goal is to ensure future new visitors can experience the streets that feel the same as when Soltis’ relatives walk.
“The environment is just layers and layers of all these different people’s experiences and you know there are echoes of everything that’s still in this place,” said Soltis. “The people who built the church, their fingerprints are on that building. The people who designed it, all the people who worshiped it from time to time. “
That doesn’t mean that no new buildings will be built. As a new developer eyeing a project in Little Italy, Redevelopment Corporation hopes to further specify suitable (building) materials.
“It tastes richer and fresher when you have more diversity of uses and diversity of people and the complexity that comes together makes a dish truly delicious,” says Soltis.
“In 20 years, if you look at Mayfield Road and it looks like you are shooting right now, then I think we have done our job,” Kristosik said.
You can take surveys to help groups gather information and data here.
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