Thursday, December 14, 2000

City gives prime spot to cement

        The woman on the telephone was weeping. Angry and frustrated, she couldn't understand why the city would do something this dumb to one of its most charming and historic neighborhoods.

        Sayler Park, 10 miles west of downtown Cincinnati, is strung along 2 miles of Ohio River bank. It's actually on the north side of River Road. There's nothing next to the river but railroad tracks and scrubby bushes.

        For now.

        “A company is going to build a cement plant — two 10-story silos. Between Sayler Park and the river. They will suck cement dust off barges into these silos, then suck it into trucks.”

        Is it redundant to notice that this sucks?

Alarming losses
               The city of Cincinnati is losing residents at an alarming clip — 33,000 since the 1990 census. Only about 38 percent of Cincinnatians own their own homes, compared with a Midwest average of more than 70 percent.

        The city is beginning to throw some serious money at this problem.

        Construction will begin next year on 60 new houses in Carthage, thanks to a $10 million investment from the city. The Banks project, which will be heavily subsidized with public money, has been heralded as a “new downtown neighborhood.”

        Meanwhile, the old neighborhood of Sayler Park isn't asking the city for anything. Except to be left in peace.

        This is a community of about 1,800 households, maybe 4,500 people. Teachers, clerks, construction workers, a judge, a university professor — well, you get the idea. Diverse. About 70 percent homeownership.

        And the city is in the process of allowing a German company to place two big silos there. Not to mention 2,000 or so visits per year from big trucks toting cement.

        “The first I heard of it was a couple of weeks ago,” Mayor Charlie Luken says. “It may already be too far along. We will do what we can. I don't want to give the impression that I can make this go away.”

        Attorney Tim Burke has been hired by Sayler Park's community council to square off with C. Francis Barrett. Mr. Barrett is retained by Lone Star Industries Inc., owned by Germany's second largest cement company, Duckerhoff DG.

View from abroad
               “Right on the river with a railroad spur, appropriate zoning, this site looked ideal,” Mr. Barrett says.

        I suppose it did if you were looking at it from Germany.

        But if you were looking at it from Barbara Tyirich's front porch, you wouldn't think so. She has lived in her Sayler Park house for 26 years. I told her Mr. Barrett said the company wants to be a good citizen, maybe even spend some money to fix up nearby Fernbank Park.

        “Couldn't they spend the money to find some place else for their towers?” she asks. Maybe some place not right next to a residential community?

        “Lone Star isn't violating any law or zoning ordinance,” says Bill Langevin, director of the city's Department of Buildings and Inspections.

        What about the Law of Diminishing Returns? The city is spending more than $166,000 per house in Carthage. That makes Sayler Park worth about $300 million. Not counting its charm. Not counting its history.

        And the city plans to let a company put a cement plant in its front yard. Against the wishes of its residents.

        It's enough to make you weep.

        E-mail or call (513) 768-8393.


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