Thursday, November 02, 2000

City hopes development compromise helps Over-the-Rhine

ReStoc to sell to private developer

By Robert Anglen and Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        After decades of directing the city's poorest residents to housing in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday approved a deal that signals a policy reversal.

        Rather than merely funding another low-income housing project, council members forced an advocate of low-income housing to agree to sell one of its properties for a market-rate development that will attract higher-earning tenants.

        That will not only turn eight vacant buildings into apartments for low-, moderate- and average-wage earners, but city officials say it also will be a catalyst for restoring a blighted neighborhood that was once considered among the most vibrant.

        But it's a deal that left nobody smiling: not council members, not developers and certainly not members of the nonprofit agency ReStoc.

        “It was not a comfortable decision. It's not something we're happy about,” said ReStoc coordinator Jennifer Summers. “It was a huge sacrifice for us.”

        By signing onto the deal, ReStoc — which has amassed 47 buildings in Over-the-Rhine — broke a vow never to allow one of its properties to be

        used for anything other than low-income housing.

        What it gets in return is $770,000 from the city that was needed to cap a $4.2 million package including state loans and money from investors who seek tax breaks by helping pay for low-income housing. It will be used to build 30 units of housing in seven buildings on Vine Street.

        Developers say that will add more low-income housing to an area already saturated with poverty. They predict efforts to create a vibrant, mixed-income neighborhood will stall because investors won't be willing to take a chance on a neighborhood this poor unless the city provides significant subsidies.

        “This wasn't the compromise we were looking for,” said Rob Schneider, a developer and president of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce. “We got half a loaf and ReStoc got half a loaf.”

        Although Mr. Schneider doesn't fully support the deal, he describes it as a “significant point in Over-the-Rhine's development history,” because never before has ReStoc agreed to sell its prop erty to a private developer.

        For months, ReStoc refused to yield to the city's demand, but it relented after it became clear that council would not approve the $770,000 before a Dec. 1 deadline. That's when ReStoc had to spend 10 percent of project costs or the $3.5 million would be reallocated.

        City planners say the project — along with ReStoc's capitulation to sell off another building to private developers — will be the catalyst for new development in a blighted area of town.

        That building, at 1214-1218 Vine St., will be sold for higher-income residences or an office/retail space. ReStoc also will lease a parking lot east of the building.

        But even council members who voted for the deal said it isn't the best.

        “It is clear this is a compromise that makes nobody happy,” said Mayor Charlie Luken. “We're involved in a turf war decades in the making.”

        Not doing the deal, he said, would make development on Vine Street impossible for another 10 years.

        The deal passed Wednesday in a 6-3 vote. Councilman Charlie Winburn, who was absent for a June vote that ended in a tie, followed Mr. Luken's lead and supported the project Wednesday.

        ReStoc fears that if private developers gain a foothold in the neighborhood, the poor will be driven out because they won't be able to pay the higher rents that developers will charge. Ms. Summers said selling the property to a private developer goes against the group's mission.

        It also removes the most attractive, and largest, of the buildings from the low-income project, one that would have been used to provide three-bedroom units, which are highly sought after, Ms. Summers said.

        Having entered into one compromise, Ms. Summers declined to say if it is something ReStoc will consider a second time.

        Developers describe ReStoc's policy of buying buildings as “stockpiling,” and argued that the city shouldn't fund the group until it loosens its control. Ms. Summers said the group hasn't acquired a property since 1995 and doesn't intend to buy any more until it develops the rest of its properties.

        Exactly how many properties ReStoc owns has been a controversial point, and Mr. Winburn has directed the Department of Neighborhood Services to find out its complete ownership.

        Ms. Summers said 14 of ReStoc's 47 buildings are vacant. She doesn't know how many parcels of land the group owns. Some buildings are built on more than one parcel.

        Hamilton County auditor records show ReStoc owns 67 land parcels under its own name and under People's Co-Op, a separate entity ReStoc formed for its latest development.

        “At least here we have some property that is being sold,” said Councilman Pat DeWine, who voted against the deal. “What really concerns me is the city policy that has concentrated the poor in Over-the-Rhine.”

        But now that the first deal has been done, he said the city has a responsibility to ensure the momentum doesn't end.

        “I think now that we've done this,” he said, “we have to look very carefully at what we're going to do in Over-the-Rhine.”


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