Thursday, July 12, 2001

Fields may be good neighbor

Xavier, N. Avondale share facilities two years after fight

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two years ago,North Avondale residents challenged Xavier University's plan to clear 20 acres of woodland for a soccer field and tennis courts.

        XU got its way but incorporated the neighbors' best ideas and won respect from critics.

[photo] Xavier University spent $2 million to build the Victory Parkway Fields, which includes tennis courts and a soccer field.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        Today, complaints have stopped and students and neighbors share the recently opened facilities as well as a bike/exercise path on the new Victory Parkway Fields.

        XU spent $2 million to build The Fields on land leased from the Cincinnati Park Board for $1 a year.

        The overgrown site, on the campus' northern border, was once home toa commercial riding stable. The land was boggy after rains and a sewer leaked.

        But to many, it was an urban forest where birds sang and deer hid. Expansion prompted neighbors to fear what would follow:

        • Industrial-strength bright lights and increased traffic and noise at night.

        • In place of trees, a clear view of the gray concrete Cintas Center.

        For some homeowners along Ledgewood Avenue — whose street had been closed in 1994 to provide a pedestrian mall for Xavier students — it was “Here we go again,” recalled John Delaney, president of the North Avondale Neighborhood Association.

        “It sometimes feels like Xavier is taking over,” he said.

        XU wanted the land to replace recreational facilities lost to the Cintas Center.

        Rather than oppose the project, the neighborhood association sought an enhanced visual buffer along the parkway and challenged the proposed use of potentially contaminated fill from Cintas Center construction.

        XU and architect Craig Rambo listened; after working with park board employees, final plans won the association's and park board approval.

        Multistage plantings are meant to assure a dense, layered buffer of trees and shrubs that will be at least 100 feet deep. That was “very liberal” compared to what most developers require, said Mr. Rambo, president of McGill Smith Punshon.

        Similarly, the recreation facility is unlighted and limited to daytime use; XU and Cincinnati police will patrol it.

        Charlene Morse, who runs the office as the North Avondale neighborhood association coordinator, said the complaints ended when The Fields was completed this year, and that's important because the association is a “complaint-driven” organization.

        She is reserving judgment until leaves fall and residents will be able to see XU. Meanwhile, Ms. Morse praised XU, saying, “I find them to be very responsive to our complaints ... They didn't just do it and not talk to us.”

        The association's Mr. Delaney went further. “Xavier has done a beautiful job,” he said.

        Still, “It was ours before they were playfields ... Now, they are Xavier's and we get to use them,” he said.

        XU tries to be a good neighbor, Mr. Delaney conceded, and “given that they wanted it, they've done an honorable job.”

        John Hart, who lives on Ledgewood, had a different view. He was pleased when the city blocked his street for the student mall “because it ended all that bad traffic past my house.”

        And he had no anxieties about converting the woods to tennis courts and a soccer field, saying, “It's a wonderful opportunity for the children.”

        Park board member Roger Ach supported XU's plans as a “wonderful partnership opportunity” to reclaim land that was “tantamount to a trash heap on NANA's front door and XU's back door.”

        He called The Fields a model for similar projects where private money develops otherwise forgotten land owned by public agencies for joint use.

        None is being planned at the moment, Mr. Ach said, “but we're trying to encourage people to bring in good ideas.”

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