Brook Park residents will vote next week on a controversial land swap deal penned by Mayors Mike White and Tom Coyne. If it's approved, the IX Center settlement would end a legal battle between the two cities that started nearly 11 years ago, costing both sides at least $11 million. The plan would allow Cleveland to construct a new runway at Hopkins International Airport by 2016. Brook Park voters have been lobbied by campaign committees with different agendas, but it's unclear which side is winning. Some are calling Brook Park's Issue 1 too close to call. 90.3 WCPN's Janet Babin reports.
Janet Babin- The two mayors finalized the land-swap deal in March. Under the agreement, about 135 acres - including the IX Center and other development parcels in Brook Park - would move into Cleveland's boundaries to be used for airport expansion. In return, Brook Park would get the portions of NASA property that are now in Cleveland, currently worth about $2 million in tax revenue annually. Brook Park is also guaranteed that the IX Center will continue to operate for the next ten years, providing about $6 million in taxes before it's torn down to make way for the new runway.
Cleveland would also obtain early eminent domain rights and a long term option to purchase 468 Brook Park homes over seven years. Cleveland's City Council approved the agreement, but Brook Park City Council voted to let residents decide.
Brook Park councilman Russell Horner voted against putting the issue on the ballot. Horner heads a council committee that's studying the agreement and opposes the deal.
Russell Horner- I think the negative impacts outweigh the benefits.
JB- Mayor Coyne considers the vote the last job he has to do in Brook Park. He's announced that he won't seek another term as mayor. Coyne's working to convince residents to vote in favor of the plan.
Tom Coyne- We'll recognize an additional $9 million from this deal, but if it's not approved, we won't get NASA, we'll be left with nothing.
JB- In an ironic twist, Coyne is considering a run for Mayor of Cleveland. He doesn't think the move conflicts with the IX Center deal.
TC- Well, I don't think it shouldn't affect anything, if I run for congress or for County Commissioner. If I run for Mayor of Cleveland with success it would have the best effect. I'd be enforcing an agreement I made with myself.
JB- Brook Park Councilman Brian Mooney says the mayor's decision to seek office in Cleveland taints the agreement.
Brian Mooney- He used a former Cleveland City Council person, negotiated with Cleveland and you're left wondering who's watching out for Brook Park.
JB- Mooney outlines what the city will lose if it votes in favor of Coyne's agreement.
BM- $2 million a year to our school district, property taxes, and 130 parcel that Cleveland has called the most worthwhile land from here to Chicago.
JB- Residents seem just as conflicted about the deal as the mayor and some council members are. Brook Park resident Tom Berkner spent 40 years at the airport working for United Airlines. He says Issue 1 isn't about airport expansion, but about somebody's pockets getting rich.
Tom Berkner- I'm held hostage - I can't sell my house.
JB- Resident Gordon Hofman is also having trouble selling his house, but he says the agreement is the only way anyone will buy his home.
Gordon Hofman- If anybody thinks they're gonna get fair market for their home, this seems to be the best thing going.
JB- Hofman's voting for the plan, but fears his neighbors will vote against it. Greater Cleveland Growth Association President Dennis Eckhart has been leading a campaign to make sure residents approve Issue 1. He defends the Growth Association's right to tell Brook Park residents how to vote.
Dennis Eckhart- We have and obligation to our members to be a part of this local debate.
JB- The Growth Association funded the efforts of The Concerned Brook Park Homeowners for the Future to send out fliers and take out print ads telling voters that Issue 1 makes sure the city gets what it's due for the IX Center.
A campaign committee called We the People is counting not on cash, but on grassroots activism to get out its message. Supporters of the movement have placed yellow caution tape on their properties. We the People fliers "tell the growth association to leave Brook Park alone."
If the vote doesn't pass, some residents think Brook Park will end up in a worse situation. Hofman, along with former City Councilwoman Bernadene Spina believes the area in question will end up as part of the airport, no matter how Brook Park residents vote.
Bernadene Spina- Cleveland agreed not to challenge our zoning laws, but then you have the Growth Association or what have you, anybody can take you to court, and if the fed courts rule that our zoning ordinances are unreasonable...
GH- Eminent domain one by one by one....
JB- That scenario would surly mean more litigation and legal bills for both cities. But councilman Mooney welcomes the challenge. He says Brook Park deserves nothing less than a share of Hopkins Airport revenue for bearing the burden of a regional airport owned and operated by another city. Port Control Director Reuben Sheperd refused to comment on the agreement for this story. The vote goes down Tuesday, August 7th. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3 WCPN News.