Sunday, January 02, 2000

Debate: Sprawl vs. boom

Monroe considers proposal for new interchange, mall

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MONROE — A chunk of open land on the eastern edge of this city is becoming the latest battleground for people who see development as sprawl vs. those who see it as an economic boom.

        Scattered opposition erupted against a plan announced in October to build a mega-mall and a new interchange east of Interstate 75 and south of Ohio 63. But more organized opposition is forming after Ohio's Transportation Review Council (TRAC) gave the proposed $22 million Kyles Station interchange a boost by recognizing it as a viable project that they would like to see studied further.

        When the state put the interchange on the list of projects to watch, it leapfrogged from the bottom of OKI's list of the region's priorities. That energized opponents who say enough is enough with mega-malls and office complexes between here and Dayton.

        Opponents in Dayton, Lebanon and Turtlecreek Township, with the help of the Cincinnati Sierra Club, are planning to get together in January to unite against proposed development. They have until April 15 to get their comments to TRAC.

        “It would destroy all the greenspace between Cincinnati and Dayton,” said Glen Brand, director of the national Sierra Club's Cincinnati office. “A mall would be a significant instigator of sprawl between the two metropolitan areas.”

        Monroe city leaders and land owners, though, see the proposed 1.7 million square-foot mall with 340 shops and an entertainment complex with theaters and restaurants from a different perspective and are ready for the arguments against the development.

        The Taubman Co.'s mall could mean 3,000 jobs early on and up to 13,000 when complete. That translates to tax dollars for a city that is looking to start its own school system.

        “I don't know if the opposition realizes the economic impact,” Monroe Mayor Elbert Tannreuther said.

        There are not concrete figures on how much tax revenue it could mean for the city of Monroe and Warren County, Mr. Tannreuther said. But the opposition says the issue isn't money.

        The issue, they say: Stopping the development that comes with a new road or interchange. Save the open space.

        “Up to this point the development has been relatively small,” said David Rawnsley, president of the Residents Association of West Central Warren County. “Our primary hope is environmental.”

        A dozen letters opposing the project have already crossed TRAC Coordinator Michael Cull's desk in Columbus. That's a lot for this point in the process, he said.

        Among the issues that the two sides disagree on:

        • Mr. Rawnsley fears the development threatens an underground aquifer residents rely on for water. But land owners say the aquifer is safe.“Where the mall is being proposed, we're about as far away from the aquifer as you can get,” said Lenny Robinson, president of Robinson Lawton Kent Realtors and one of the seven owners of the land the mall would be developed on.

        • Michele Schubert, who moved from Dayton to Lebanon about three years ago, says the new interchange and mall would ruin the small town atmosphere she moved to Warren County for.

        “Ohio 63 is the only way to get to the mall,” she said. “It's a residential street. It's going to become an on-ramp from Ohio 48 straight down 63 to the mall. We have no other way to get traffic over there.”

        But Mayor Tannreuther said the new interchange and Ohio 63 improvements will be able to handle the mall traffic. “They handle it in L.A. and Chicago, why can't we handle it here?” he said.

        • Franklin resident Suellyn Shupe said “another mall would contribute greatly to the creeping blight between Dayton and Cincinnati.”

        Dayton resident Mike Monett, who runs a Web site dedicated in part to opposing the interchange, agrees and believes the state money should be spent fixing existing roads before building new ones.

        “This is about a major conflict about what I stand for and what the professional road developers stand for.”

        Fifteen or twenty years ago, there likely wouldn't have been the backlash against a new interchange and a proposed mall. Since then suburban sprawl has become a buzzword nationwide as more people are speaking out against interstates and development on once-rural land.

        The land, which is in Monroe's city limits, is zoned for light and heavy industry.

        “It's going to develop. You might as well go with something clean,” Mayor Tannreuther said. “Traffic we can handle. ... Nobody is going to change the American love affair with the automobile overnight. We opted to build the interstate system. Now we're living with it.”

        Warren County Commissioner Pat South said the county doesn't have control over what will go on the land, but she would prefer to see a mall developed on it than industry.

        “It was felt that a shopping mall, or retail, would be the least detrimental to the aquifer,” she said. “The only way for it to be vacant is if someone buys it and puts a deed restriction on it so it's not developed.”

        And she said, if the mall is built, the interchange needs to go in to handle the traffic.

        “We don't want another Fields Ertel,” she said.

        Hamilton and Warren counties are trying to unsnarl traffic at Fields Ertel Road off Interstate 71 because new office buildings and retail went in before traffic problems were addressed there.

        Opponents are also worried about losing greenspace.

        “It's hard to fight that much money and that much political clout,” Mr. Rawnsley said. “We're going to have to make sure those environmental issues are addressed and followed to the letter.”


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