Friday, September 19, 2008

Why move to Mill Creek? Our story

During the year before we got married, my wife, Sophie, and I were looking for the place that we would call home. She lived on the West Side, in North Olmsted. I lived in Shaker Square, an eastern Cleveland neighborhood bordering Shaker Heights.  We wrote down all the factors that were important to us, and weighted them. After considering a bunch of alternatives, we settled on Mill Creek. No brainer. No other option came close. Here's how we scored it:
  • Location: Mill Creek is less than 15 minutes from downtown, where I worked 10 years ago... it's about 22 minutes to Sophie's job, which is in Richfield, due south going against rush-hour traffic and almost all freeway travel. MC is close enough to the middle for us. Also, since I was working in Cleveland, it made for one less municipal income tax we would have to pay... Mill Creek is also close to University Circle, two world-class hospitals, freeways and all the inner ring suburbs and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park
  • Safety and Security: There's one entrance in and one exit out of Mill Creek, making any burglar think twice before preying on one of the houses here. He knows that if he's spotted and reported, or if he activates an alarm, Cleveland police can just wait at the Turney Road exit to check out any suspicious traffic, assuming that said thief is in a car or truck. If on foot, Mr. Burglar wouldn't be able to make off with much loot. Better to pick another, easier spot. There have been very few incidents around here, and most that I know of resulted from someone leaving a garage door open or something else that might have attracted theft. In 10 years, I know of one stolen motorcycle and one or two other petty thefts, e.g., lawn furniture; and a couple incidents of minor vandalism. My neighborhood growing up in suburban Cleveland was no safer.
  • Affordability: 15 years of tax abatement from the City and reasonably priced homes (especially in this market). New homes purchased from the developer qualified for extra savings from the participating banks, a point and a half below market rate (non-assumable) on conventional mortgages. The tax abatements are on the home only and not on the value of the land. Most homeowners pay about $500 a year or so in total for taxes. Abatements are good for the duration of the 15 years regardless of who owns the home. Depending on when the home was built, abatements here will run out starting in about 2010 or 2011 and go as long as 2023. (I think the final "new" house built by the developer is in negotiation for sale now. The abatement expires 15 years from date of sale.) There is a homeowners association fee, which is currently around $55 a month per homeowner. It covers expenses to maintain the community center, landscaping of common areas, pool and lifeguard expenses and liability insurance. 
  • Diversity and community: young and old, black and white, suburban and urban, DINKS, straight, gay, empty nesters and lots of kids. If Hollywood wanted to cast a typical American community representative of most backgrounds and demographics, they might come here. Added bonus is that most houses have front porches, which makes getting to know people so much easier. Neighbors actually know one another and look out for each other. 
  • Green space: the Garfield Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks is in my backyard (actually it abuts my backyard). The Garfield Nature Center is a two-mile walk along a park-maintained all-purpose trail. Mill Creek Falls is less than a half-mile walk the other way on that same trail. The developer included three open green spaces that are within the development, one of which includes a Community Center and swimming pool. 
  • Environmental impact: by buying a new or newer home with modern insulation and HVAC, we save money and energy compared to that of many of our suburban neighbors. By living close to work, we drive less. By living in a relatively dense housing development, those who live within this community take up less space. (On 58 acres, Mill Creek has 220 homes, most of which are free-standing singles. About a dozen or so, which line Turney Road, are duplexes, side-by-side up-and-downs with single family garages. And Mill Creek is the antithesis of sprawl. 
  • Value: our mortgages, taxes and insurance are comparable to paying rent. We will have to start paying taxes in five years when our abatement expires. But it was a great incentive to get us to move here. No way could we afford to own this kind of home with this quality and all the other advantages above nearly anywhere else in the country. There's also an active Mill Creek Activities Committee that plans and sponsors events such as an annual clambake and a holiday party. The Homeowners Association has a great group of committed volunteer board members, who are responsive and hard-working. A volunteer marketing committee recently launched a website and a blog. 
  • Coolness Quotient: I'm not cool. But if you squint real hard and I lost a lot of weight and wore sunglasses and I didn't look like myself at all you might think I was. And we all want to be a part of something cool. Mill Creek is a unique urban experiment that is succeeding. It's spot on for anyone who likes the values listed here. For others maybe not so much. Mill Creek is *not* for anyone who wants to live on a 15-acre lot and hunt deer in the back yard. It's definitely not for the family that wants to raise their kids with other kids who all share the same racial and cultural backgrounds. 

A few other things to think about:
  • Cleveland Municipal School District has improved immensely but is still challenged. Check it out along with whatever alternatives you might consider. I live in a Double Income No Kids (DINK) household and have limited knowledge. We have a ton of neighbors here with kids, any one of whom would be happy to talk about their personal choices for schooling and how they arrived there. 
  • Living in an economically challenged city has its challenges. The snow doesn't get cleared every hour on the hour-- sometimes we have to wait a bit. But garbage gets picked up on time every week and our safety forces -- police and fire -- are dedicated professionals. Many of Cleveland's finest live in Mill Creek and take extra care and pride to ensure our safety. 
  • As green as our community is, it would be better if this community had more shops and service businesses that were walkable. As it is, almost all shopping has to be done by car. A notable exception is the Big Dipper ice cream parlor on Bancroft. Owned and operated by a retired UPS driver, "Mr. Bill," it's a local favorite and is only a 10 minute walk. The Big Dipper is in an old meat market, the only business of any kind on an old Cleveland residential street. 
  • Other neighborhood favorites: Sophie's Pierogies , Peter and Sophie's Market (no relation to my wife!) and the Cozy Inn, a great, old restaurant on Warner Road run and operated by "Millie," who began working there in 1933. Millie still cooks all the food. Try the fish fry on Friday nights.


Anonymous said...

I LOVED reading your story and it makes me miss all of you so much!


Unknown said...

Wow! I'm sold... of course, that would require me to move back to Cleveland, but I'm glad I get to visit frequently!

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