Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Fort Thomas delays plan vote

Business district project draws objections

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT THOMAS — City Council agreed Monday to delay voting on the triggering component of an ambitious business district redevelopment plan until it can better address residents' concerns.

        After listening for more than an hour to comments from residents opposed to the plan, council unanimously decided not only to hold off voting until its June 4 meeting but also to see if alterations can be made to the plan.

        “From what we've heard tonight,” said Councilman Roger Peterman, “we need to get more input.”

        The plan involves burying utility lines along about a five-block area along North Fort Thomas Avenue, the city's main business district.

        Removing overhead lines is the first and key phase of a plan to reconfigure the business district, a proposal city leaders hope brings new merchants and shoppers to the city's commercial core.

        During a nearly hourlong presentation on the plan at Monday night's council meeting, City Administrator Jeff Earlywine repeatedly said the poles, as well as medians on the street, need to be removed for aesthetic and safety reasons.

        But residents oppose the city's plan to reroute some of the wires to overhead poles on nearby streets. People living on Woodland Place, which is one block off North Fort Thomas Avenue, are especially angry about plans to run utility poles through a wooded area at the end of their street.

        “If the overhead wires are such an eyesore on (North Fort Thomas) Avenue, why do you feel it would be OK to reroute them to a residential street?” Woodland Place resident Kim Weyer asked the council members, who did not directly answer that and some other questions from citizens.

        Though Mr. Earlywine said removing the poles and medians from the middle of the street would improve safety and cut down on traffic accidents, many residents at Monday's meeting disagreed.

        Kim Zimmerman, who lives at North Fort Thomas Avenue and Forest Avenue, said the medians actually make crossing the street safer.

        “I know when I cross the street with my little boy we can't make it all the way across because of the traffic,” Ms. Zimmerman. “We can stop midway on the median and wait for the cars to pass.”

        Mr. Earlywine used a slide presentation with manipulated photos to show how North Fort Thomas would look without the poles and medians.

        While the business district did look less cluttered in the altered photographs, several residents said removing the poles and medians would leave the street looking barren while gutting the center of town of its character.

        “It will look like I-471,” said Forest Avenue resident Dave Newman.

        Councilman Eric Haas said council and the city's administrative staff can use the time until the June 4 vote on the utility plan to determine if there are ways “to mitigate some of the problems” raised by residents.

        Councilman Tom Fernandez, who with Mr. Peterman led the call to delay the vote, said the city should investigate whether the wires could be buried at the end of Woodland Place instead of running through the woods.

        And Councilman Tom Doepker said he wants more information on if electric utility wires on overhead poles pose any health risk to people living near the poles.

        The overall plan has largely been developed by Fort Thomas Forward, a group of residents and business leaders appointed by council more than a year ago to study redeveloping the business district.

        The plan, which could cost as much as $12 million in private and public money, has not been approved by council but is scheduled to be voted on this summer.

        However, the city is counting on a $323,000 state grant to complete the utility relocation, which the city estimates will cost $731,053.

        Mr. Earlywine said the public's opposition to the project could hurt the chances of receiving the grant.


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