Sunday, March 17, 2002

Cleanup fund would speed Norwood development

By Susan Vela,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NORWOOD — Al Neyer Inc. and the city are applying for a $3 million grant to clean up the abandoned 15-acre General Motors Corp. parking lot, the last remnant of the auto manufacturer's presence in the city and one of the largest “brownfields” in the region.

        They hope their joint effort bolsters their chance of getting the maximum grant from the “Clean Ohio Fund,” a voter-approved reserve that will disburse $120 million over the next three years to redevelop the most polluted spots in the state.

        Neyer wants to build a $35 million development on the site with a mix of retail, office and restaurant uses. The Kroger Co. also has expressed interest in building a store there.

        The grant would be used to excavate and neutralize volatile organic compounds still in the ground northwest of the Norwood Lateral and Carthage Avenue intersection. The pollutants — some of them carcinogens — came from the former Globe Wernecke furniture plant and its painting facility.

        The Ohio EPA has said it is concerned about a concentration of metals, including lead, in the soil. Troublesome concentrations of silver and cadmium have been found in the ground water.

        The additional cleanup would lessen Neyer's need to monitor and finance ongoing engineering controls on the property.

        Some pollutants will remain in the ground because “there are two sites that we cannot really touch,” said Ken Schon, Neyer's vice president. “We'll proceed as if we're going to get (the grant). This has to do with cleaning up the site rather than just managing the issues that remain there.”

        The company wants to begin remediation work in July and break ground for the project in August. The mix of retail, office and restaurant uses is expected to generate $500,000 in earnings taxes.

        “To have a site that big in a city this small is an economic burden. To have that cleaned up and ready for development will just make people feel good about the site and improve the tax base,” said Susan Roschke, the city's planning director.

        She and Mr. Schon submitted the grant application Friday to the state's public works district office. The document includes remediation plans and the developer's tentative development plans, which include a letter of interest from Kroger.

        Amy Schulten, Kroger advertising manager, confirmed that Kroger has looked at opening a new store on the old GM lot because of the area's high traffic volume.

        “We're always looking at opportunities. It's just one of those opportunities,” she said.

        The submitted plans encompass the 15 GM acres and 7 adjacent acres owned by Newman Properties. Neyer plans to buy both pieces of land once the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency grants GM a “no further action letter.”

        The letter, in essence, declares that the property is fit for commercial development. However, without further remediation, Neyer cannot dig more than 2 feet deep on at least an acre of the GM property.

        By the end of March, Neyer will submit a planned unit development application to the city. It will include proposed uses for the property and soil condition information.

        By mid-July, the company and Norwood officials should know whether they'll get the grant.

        A public hearing on the grant application is 7 p.m. April 30 at Norwood High School.


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