Friday, July 06, 2001

City's designation angers owners




By Amanda York
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — The two businesses in the tidy red brick building at Fourth and Greenup streets cater to numerous customers.

        One business, Image Insights sells products for cancer patients. Inside the store, people with cancer can buy everything from turbans and prostheses to wigs.

        The other, The Inkwell, serves businesses by printing business cards, letterhead or envelopes.

[photo] Kathy Froelicher, cosmetologist and fitter at Image Insights, holds a mirror in the hair-prosthesis room of the business.
([name of photographer] photo)
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        Customers bustle in and out the doors, which are surrounded by neatly trimmed windows. A small bed of brightly colored summer flowers lines the front of the building.

        It doesn't look like a disaster area, a dump site or blight pocket; but despite the businesses' neat appearance, their site has been designated a potential brownfield by the city of Covington.

        “I just don't understand,” said Gayle M. Zinda,owner of Image Insights. “Blatantly abandoned buildings I can understand. We are not dilapidated or deserted.”

        The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines a brownfield as “abandoned or idled or under-used industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.”

        It is this definition that has Mrs. Zinda and Paul Conway, the two business owners, pondering why their business site has been declared a potential brownfield — and why nobody told them about it.

        The Brownfields Technical Committee, formed by the city about two years ago to identify potential brownfields as part of an application process to receive a grant for redeveloping the property, designated 12 properties within the city, including the one where the businesses are located, Fourth and Greenup, in the shadow of the IRS Center and the county building.

        Some of the properties chosen by the committee obviously fit the EPA's definition of a brownfield. One such site is the old Donaldson Art Sign Co., an old warehouse that has sat abandoned for years on Donaldson Avenue.

        The naming of these sites assisted the city in obtaining a $200,000 grant from the EPA to redevelop the potential brownfields, an effort they hope will promote what politicians call “smart growth” and decrease urban sprawl.
       

No need for boost

        But Mrs. Zinda says her business site doesn't need redeveloping. Mrs. Zinda has operated the business for seven years.

        Mrs. Zinda, with a background in nursing, says her business serves around 8,000 cancer patients in the Tristate.

Conway
Conway
        Her neighbors, Paul and Kevin Conway, the owners of The Inkwell, share the same sentiment. The Conways' printing business has been in the building for 10 years.

        Neither Mrs. Zinda nor the Conways knew the property their businesses sit on was a brownfield. Mrs. Zinda learned after reading about it in the Enquirer.

        Both Mrs. Zinda and the Conways rent the space. In the past, they rented from William “Bill” Hofler. Mr. Hofler developed the land in the '80s. Mr. Hofler, who died May 19, never mentioned the property being a potential brownfield, they said.

        Now, Covington lawyer John Elfers deals with Mr. Hofler's estate. Mr. Elfers also said he had no knowledge that the property was a potential brownfield.

        Like Mrs. Zinda and the Conways, he was confused about why the property could be declared a potential brownfield.

        “They are both very successful businesses,” Mr. Elfers said. “I don't know how the property could be underdeveloped.”
       

Previous use cited

        According to Ella Frye, the director of economic development for Covington, the committee used past documents to determine which sites would be considered potential brownfields.

[photo] The exterior of the building at Fourth and Greenup where Image Insights and The Inkwell are located.
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        The site at Fourth and Greenup was designated because historical documents show in the 1950s a gas station sat on the property.

        Ms. Frye stressed that the property was assessed as a potential brownfield based on past and not current uses. The property must go through environmental testing before it can be declared a brownfield, Ms. Frye said. If the property is found not to be contaminated, then it will be taken off the list of potential brownfields. She said it was standard practice to not notify the property or business owners until the first phase of testing began.

        “In terms of not contacting them, there was no reason,” Ms. Frye said. When testing begins, the businesses will be contacted.
       

"We're in the way'

        Mr. Conway has his own theory about why the property was declared a potential brownfield, and he wasn't contacted. He said he believes developers would like to redevelop the land.

        “They want us out of there for sprucing up the area between the water and Fifth Street,” Mr. Conway said. “We are in the way.”

        Covington Mayor Butch Callery said he was unaware of any plan to redevelop the area.

        “I don't think the city would force anything in that area,” Mr. Callery said.

        Chuck Eilerman of Re/Max Greater Cincinnati Commercial Group said he could see how the area would be viewed as a good site for development. Mr. Eilerman, who was a member of the Brownfields Technical Committee, said the Fourth and Greenup Street site was an “unusual,” designation for a potential brownfield because of its conditions.

        However, he also said the site, because of its prime location, could be considered underutilized.

        “A site with two small businesses and a parking lot is probably underutilized in an urban real estate sense,” Mr. Eilerman said.

BROWNFIELDS
   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines brownfields as “abandoned, idled or under-used industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.”
   Herb Petitjean, an environmental technologist with the Kentucky Division of Waste Management, says the term started being used about eight years ago.
   Mr. Petitjean admitted that the term brownfields tends to carry a negative image with it.
   The EPA's brownfields initiative says it will empower states, communities and other stakeholders in economic development to work together in a timely manner to prevent, assess, safely clean up and sustainably reuse brownfields.
   Other states with similar programs often use different words to describe their brownfields program. Pennsylvania, for instance, calls its a “land recycling program.”
   Jeff McCloud, deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said calling the program “land recycling” instead of “brownfield redevelopment” was not done necessarily to promote a more positive image. Mr. McCloud said the department still also uses the word “brownfield.”
        Ms. Frye said a redevelopment plan done in 1968 identified that block as a “redevelopment block.” The study, she said, identified the block as one that could be of a “higher or more dense development.”

        The city, Ms. Frye said, did not want to exclude the property owners. Instead, they wanted to work with them.

        “We see there are room for improvements, and we want to work with the property owners in terms of redevelopment,” she said.
       

Not always negative

        Being labeled a brownfield doesn't always carry negative connotations.

        That's the opinion of Michael Weinstein, co-owner of SRW Environmental Services Inc. in Milford and a professional geologist. Mr. Weinstein said brownfields aren't necessarily deserted or dilapidated.

        The images often associated with brownfields are “unfortunate,” said Barbara Dick, the brownfields project manager for the Louisville brownfields project. Ms. Dick said that “a lot of times the perception is worse than the reality.”

        Because this type of designation can stigmatize a property, the city of Louisville doesn't name potential brownfields, said Bonnie Biemer, executive administrator of the division of environmental issues of the Louisville Development Authority.

        “The problem with saying "this is a brownfield and that's a brownfield' is that you create a stigma, and sometimes it is not even valid,” Mrs. Biemer said.

        This means that nice looking properties such as the one where Mrs. Zinda's and Mr. Conway's businesses operate can be considered a brownfield if the property is perceived as not using the space to its full potential.

        “Even nice-looking properties can be brownfields,” Jeff Harmon, a Northern Kentucky lawyer who worked on the Love Canal contamination case in Niagara Falls, N.Y., said. Mr. Harmon assists companies and business owners on redeveloping brownfields.

        Mr. Weinstein cited the old Carthage Mills factory in Carthage as an example of a business where a property wasn't being used to its full potential. The site operated as a linoleum manufacturing factory for years. When it stopped making linoleum, the building went through a series of transitions.

        When SRW redeveloped the site it was operating as a trucking warehouse. Residents were unhappy with the building's use because the traffic created a nuisance.

        There were about six small businesses operating inside the factory. After it was declared a brownfield, the city helped relocate the businesses.

        “A lot of brownfields are not unoccupied,” he said. “Sometimes they are big factories ... where it used to be 200-300 white-collar jobs and now, two or three people work there with forklifts.”
       

Notification process

        Despite the small size of the businesses atFourth and Greenup, the owners don't agree with the city's notification process.

        Mr. Conway, who plans to pass the business on to his 31-year-old son, Kevin, said he would go peacefully if asked to leave. But the business he created a decade ago isn't something he would be able to do again from scratch.

        “If this is what is going to be best for the city of Covington, then I don't want to stand in the way,” Mr. Conway said. “I just don't have the energy to start over again.”

        But for Mrs. Zinda, the important thing to recognize is not the size of the staff at her company but what the company does for cancer patients in the Tristate area.

        “We are helping human beings deal with everyday life and the challenges that go along with it,” Mrs. Zinda said. “I think that is important, and I don't think it is underutilized.”
       

Love Canal
        Love Canal in Niagara County, N.Y., stands as probably the biggest environmental disaster in the United States. The toxic history of the area began in 1896 when William Love dug a canal that stretched nearly 2 miles meant to connect the upper and lower Niagara River.

        The canal was never used for that purpose.

        Instead, in 1942 a chemical company began using the canal as a chemical dump. In the 1950s, the Niagara Falls Board of Education acquired the property and built a school there. In 1977, toxic chemicals were found seeping into homes near the canal.

        New York state authorities began evacuating families in 1979. Then-President Jimmy Carter announced the allocation of federal funds and ordered the Federal Disaster Assistance Agency to assist in repairing the site.
       Ky. success stories

        Covington and Newport are two of the Environmental Protection Agency's three pilot programs in Kentucky, with each city receiving a $200,000 grant recently. Louisville was the first city to receive the $200,000 grant for brownfield redevelopment in 1995.

        Members of Gov. Paul Patton's recently formed Smart Growth Task Force are having their first meeting in Louisville today. Part of the meeting will be a tour through the city looking at potential brownfield redevelopment sites.

        The 35-member bipartisan task force was formed by executive order, with the goal of examining ways to control urban sprawl in Kentucky.

        Louisville has already had success with several areas once considered brownfields. Papa John's Cardinal Stadium was one of the city's most successful brownfield redevelopment projects. It was constructed on top of an old CSX railroad site.

        An area targeted for development in Louisville is the historic Trolley Barn site. The city spent $80,000 cleaning up the environmentally contaminated site. Today, the site is ready for redevelopment. An African-American museum, along with a minimall, a restaurant and a cultural center, may occupy the site.

        Other potential redevelopment sites in the city include the Park du Valle neighborhood, Louisville Slugger Field and Waterfront Park.
       

Brownfields in Ohio
        For more than 100 years, Mosler Safe Co. made safes in the city of Hamilton. They sold safes around the world. When the successful company closed, the site was left vacant for years. SRW Environmental Services Inc. of Milford was instrumental in bringing the old building back to life, said Jeff Harmon, a lawyer in Fort Mitchell. Now the facility is used as a commercial warehouse.

        Another redeveloped brownfield in Ohio is the Jefferson Smurfitt facility in the village of Lockland along Interstate 75. Mr. Harmon said SRW cleaned the site up by tearing down the structure. Now a Moxy truck-sales facility is on the site. Moxy makes trucks used for construction trade and mining. Next to the Moxy site are small buildings that house multiple small businesses, Mr. Harmon said.
       



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