City of Cleveland Moves Forward With Actions Impacting Lakefront and Cuyahoga River

September 26, 2022

Recent zoning and land use developments within the City of Cleveland indicate new thoughts and plans for action along Cleveland’s lakefront and riverfront. While Cleveland’s Lake Erie lakefront has long been the subject of speculation about what could be, the city has plans for development along Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River frontage as well. Cleveland’s plans for both areas revolve around better connecting Clevelanders from across the region to the city’s most significant natural and recreational assets.

Cleveland North Coast Lakefront Master Plan

First, the Cleveland City Planning Commission (CCPC) recently commenced its request for proposals (RFP) process for the Cleveland North Coast Lakefront Master Plan. In the first step of the process, the City’s goal is to identify a consultant team to create a master plan for Cleveland’s North Coast. As stated in the RFP:

“The North Coast Lakefront Master Plan is part of a larger, ongoing Lakefront vision to reconnect the community to Lake Erie in a holistic manner that ensures the benefit of the entire region – from pre-development through construction and to post-development occupancy.”

The new master plan study is preceded by a lakefront development proposal put forth by Jimmy and Dee Haslam earlier this year. Notably, the master plan geography omits Burke Lakefront Airport; however, the RFP mentions that the study of Burke may be a future Phase 2 to the winning consultant’s contract.

Cleveland’s new North Coast Lakefront Master Plan seems poised to significantly change how Ohioans from across the region access and interact with the North Coast area. By increasing connectivity to downtown Cleveland, the master plan would create or enhance channels for activity between existing activity nodes and the North Coast Lakefront and increase the social appeal and economic potential for land uses in connected areas. The new master plan should positively impact the highest and best uses for property across a wide footprint in downtown Cleveland and beyond on a number of levels and build on prior zoning reform efforts, an ever-growing downtown population, and federal, state and local transportation efforts to better interconnect all Cleveland neighborhoods with each other for the benefit of all.

Watercourse Building Setback

Second, minutes show that the CCPC recently voted to approve a city zoning code amendment for Cleveland City Council’s adoption that would require new construction to be set back from a watercourse, defined within the amendment as “any natural, perennial, or intermittent lake, pond, channel, stream, river, creek or brook with a defined bed and bank or shore.” The Watercourse Building Setback amendment builds on the 2021 Vision for the Valley study and a prior unfinished City effort regarding river frontage for lands along Old River road and city-owned property for the future Canal Basin Park.

Generally speaking, a setback is a required open space in which no structures may be located, except where specifically otherwise allowed. Setbacks are generally indicated on Building Zone Maps of the city and measured from property lines. The Watercourse Building Setback amendment would create a new setback section in Cleveland’s ordinances with the intent to:

  • “Support and protect the Cuyahoga River and other watercourses by enhancing water quality and supporting storm water management.”
  • “Protect the health and safety of watercourses so they can continue to contribute meaningfully to all Clevelanders through commerce, recreation and general well-being.”

The City hopes the amendment can help minimize encroachment on watercourses, protect structures, reduce property damage and safety threats, preserve the character of the community, improve quality of life and enhance property values. Other major cities in the region, such as Buffalo, Chicago and Pittsburgh, have watercourse setbacks or other zoning criteria specifically geared toward riverfront or lake areas.

Designed to protect and preserve the Cuyahoga River’s water quality and the general welfare of the area population, the proposed Watercourse Building Setback would nonetheless reduce the potential building envelope for future projects located along the Cuyahoga River. While variances may be permitted, impacted properties could see the legally permissible elements of their highest and best uses diminished. However, the proposed setback could have positive benefits for the physically possible elements of their highest and best uses insofar as the protections would protect items and areas adjacent to watercourses such as banks, bulkheads and others. Details such as maps and distance specifications for the Watercourse Building Setback have not been released to the public yet.

KJK will continue to monitor developments regarding the Lakefront Master Plan and the Watercourse Building Setback. If you have any questions, please contact Richard Morehouse (RAM@kjk.com; 216.736.7292).