Friday, April 05, 2002

City, residents crossed wires

Missed chance to have lights installed

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With its postcard views of downtown, Mulberry Street is the type of place wealthy Cincinnatians could choose when searching for a home near downtown.

[photo] Mulberry Street is a beehive of jackhammers, Bobcats and dump trucks as new curbs and sidewalks are being installed.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        Yet some residents there say the city's decision to push ahead with $1.2 million in street improvements — while failing to consider neighborhood requests to install decorative lighting — is an example of why the city struggles to attract homeowners.

        Last year, residents asked the city to investigate adding touches such as decorative lights and grass-lined sidewalks before repairing the street and sidewalk. The homeowners have been willing to pay for the extras, which would be less expensive to install as the city digs up the street and sidewalk.

        So, many were surprised when contractors plowed ahead with the job two weeks ago.

        “The first notice I got as a homeowner was a jackhammer in front of my house,” Chris Rose said.

        City officials acknowledge that somehow, the neighbors' request was fumbled.

        “I think it's probably fair to say we dropped the ball, and we should have done better,” said Joe Vogel, an engineer with the city's transportation department. “We weren't aware of this request until late in the game.”

        Another 18 streets in Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton were completed before Mulberry as part of $1.2 million in repairs. The city delayed the Mulberry project to allow the water department to install new underground pipes.

        Any further delays would give the contractor, Prus Construction, leverage to charge the city extra.

        “Eventually you have to let progress go on,” said Susan Backers, president of the Mulberry Street Association. “Finally, we are getting some assistance.”

        Residents still have the option of paying for lights. But Mr. Vogel acknowledges that it would require tearing up parts of the newly paved sidewalk and street, an expensive endeavor.

        It's unlikely neighbors will push for new lights and grass-lined sidewalks now, said Joe Gorman, a developer who plans to build four homes on Mulberry.

        Developers like Mr. Gorman believe Mulberry Street, which divides Over-the-Rhine and Mount Auburn, and other hillside streets in communities ringing downtown are immensely important to the city's future.

        They offer the best chance of luring homeowners to neighborhoods better known for crime, litter and drug dealing.

        Mr. Gorman and others don't want to be perceived as ungrateful.

        “One the one hand, we're very happy,” that the city tackled street and sidewalk repairs, Mr. Gorman said. “At the same time, it would have been nice to work with the city closer to add value to the street.”

        City agencies have tentatively agreed to kick in $120,000 to help pay for Mr. Gorman's four-home development. City Council is expected to vote on the funding request over the next few weeks.

        Developers say they need the city's help to build new homes in poor neighborhoods because the projects have more risks and more costs.

        Even if the city worked more closely with the neighborhood, it's no guarantee the lighting would have been installed.

        The city requires that a majority of residents approve the extra lighting, which cost up to $6,000 per pole.

        No city neighborhoods over the past decade have elected to pay for new street lights, said Bob Fluharty, the city's traffic engineer.

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