It took nearly three hours, almost 20 speakers and dozens of impassioned speeches, but the Lakewood Planning Commission finally voted — in a split decision — that the Heideloff property should not be designated a historic property.
The home at 13474 Edgewater Drive is expected to be demolished to make way for a new $2 million lakefront home.
Members of the planning commission deliberated for about 45 minutes on Thursday, and with a new member encouraged to abstain, the vote ended with a 3-3 decision.
That effectively denied the motion to make the property “historic” under city ordinance.
At the center of the debate was the issue of private property rights versus historic preservation.
The neighbors, not the property owners, submitted the paperwork to make the mansion a historic landmark.
Mary Breiner, the applicant for the designation and resident of nearby Homewood Avenue, said she will likely appeal the commission’s decision and has 10 days to do so.
“In my mind, we have already said that this property is eligible be designated a historic property,” said commission member Robert Greytak, who voted in favor of the designation. “In my mind, (the code) goes from eligibility to designation.”
“I think it’s very clear that the designation is to prevent the demolition,” responded chairman Mark Stockman, who voted against the measure along with Mary Cierebiej and Tamara Karel.
“Why this house?” Stockman asked Breiner.
“The people who purchased this home have indicated that they are going to tear it down,” Breiner said, sharing several historical highlights of the property. “That would be a great loss.”
The historic landmark ordinance is written as a two-step process: First the planning commission must decide whether a property is eligible for the designation — which it did in December.
On Thursday, several people spoke out, on both sides of the issue.
At times the debate was intense.
A turning point came about halfway through the meeting, when Mayor Michael Summers, a neighbor of the Heideloff property, took to the podium to oppose the designation.
As a Ward 3 city councilman, Summers was one of the framers of the historic designation ordinance several years ago.
“I never in my wildest imagination would have thought that we would have a group of homeowners using this a tool against the wishes of (another) homeowner in Lakewood,” he said. “This ordinance was designed to protect the public infrastructure that we enjoy as a public arena. The notion of personal property rights and their infringement frankly was not a part of the discussion — I wish it had been.”
“We’re talking about property rights. We take that seriously.”
Peter Szeman, the attorney representing the Semaan family, made a plea for the commission to reject the application, citing the “financial hardships” the Semaans would incur based on a designation.
“It was good to hear someone make the comment that no one is against the Semaans,” he said. “But if you’re the Semaans, that’s not the impression you’re getting from this community.”
Szeman said the Semaans bought the house for $750,000 and learned that it’d cost an additional $600,000 to restore it.
“They bought the property because they fell in love with the property — it’s 2.5 acres and it goes up to the lake — it’s fantastic,” he said. “But not the house… It’s too late to try to salvage in an economically feasible way.”
“This house is an echo of what you may have once had (in this neighborhood),” he added.
Michael Semaan said that had the home been designated historic, he would have “split the lots into several subdivisions” and left the city.
“We never wanted this property designated,” he said, adding that the there was an addendum in the purchase agreement noting that point.
After the meeting, Michael Semaan thanked the commission.
The approval would have made the Heideloff property — built by a prominent Cleveland industrialist Wilfred Sly nearly 100 years ago — the city’s first residential “historic landmark” in Lakewood under the city’s ordinance.
But this isn’t likely the end of the issue.
The neighbors plan to appeal the planning commission’s decision, by resubmitting a reapplication.