Thursday, October 10, 2002

Neyer withdraws rezoning request

Partner in mall development leaves; potential tenants seeking other sites

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. — The prospects for one of four mall projects vying to build here have dimmed after its developer withdrew his rezoning request and walked out of a packed zoning hearing Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Dan Neyer, president of Neyer Properties Inc., confirmed that his partner in the proposed lifestyle center, Steiner & Associates of Columbus — the developers of Newport on the Levee — is no longer on board.

The loss of Steiner means the project has no tenants. Without Steiner, restaurateur Jeff Ruby has said he won't build a steakhouse in West Chester. Galyan's sporting goods store is now planning to open a store at one of the malls proposed in Warren County instead, most likely the one in Deerfield Township, Mr. Neyer said. The other tenant at the 675,000-square-foot lifestyle center, Showcase Cinemas, is looking to open a theater elsewhere in the area.

Steiner officials repeatedly have declined to comment on the project in recent weeks. Mr. Neyer said they pulled out weeks ago because the township didn't better receive it this summer.

“Right now we have no tenants,” Mr. Neyer said. “It's up in the air, but it's not a dead project at all. We still have the best site in West Chester from access, visibility and traffic.”

Mr. Neyer appeared before trustees Tuesday for a rezoning hearing on West Chester Market Square on 75 acres at Cincinnati-Dayton Road and Interstate 75. But he wanted more information about traffic studies and other conditions the township put on the rezoning.

He objected to some of the 24 conditions, such as not being able to develop five outlots on his site until at least 150,000 square feet of the development — not counting the theater — was built, saying they were unprecedented in the township.

“This clearly flies in the face of market forces,” Mr. Neyer told trustees.

Trustees Jose Alvarez and Catherine Stoker were openly upset and warned Mr. Neyer to stop “playing games.”

While they refused his delay request and then held the public hearing on his case without him, Trustee Dave Tacosik said he thought they should postpone the hearing and not “inflame” the situation further.

The township is awaiting a legal opinion on whether to proceed with the matter or if they must now drop it at Mr. Neyer's request, Administrator Dave Gully said.

West Chester is the scene of a highly competitive race by mall developers.

The West Chester Zoning Commission approved the rezoning for Neyer's $100 million project last month, but now it is all but guaranteed that township trustees unanimously will overturn that decision if they vote Oct. 22.

If that happens, the zoning case can't be heard in the township for another year.

A lifestyle center almost identical to Market Square just began construction a mile away, at the southeast corner of I-75 and Union Centre Boulevard. The Streets of West Chester will hold a 4,100-seat theater, restaurants, shops, offices and eventually 400 apartments.

Many Union Centre Boulevard business representatives and developers urged trustees Tuesday to not permit the Market Square project. They maintain it goes against the township's “vision plan,” which outlines Union Centre as the place for lifestyle centers. They also argued Market Square might doom The Streets and other retail development at Union Centre.

But Mr. Neyer might have another way to build his project, or at least the most important part of it. This summer, he sued the township in Butler County Common Pleas Court after the West Chester Board of Zoning Appeals rejected his conditional-use permit request to build the theater, shops and restaurant inside a 325,000-square-foot center.

That appeal still is pending but may not be decided this year because depositions have yet to be scheduled. In the meantime, his company also has purchased 65 acres at the northwest corner of Michael A. Fox Highway and I-75 in Liberty Township. That land is zoned for industrial use, but Liberty officials would be happy to rezone it for retail.

Mr. Neyer was vague Wednesday about plans for the West Chester and Liberty sites. He also said the township had no legal rights to hold hearings on his zoning request after he yanked it, but still hoped to mediate the dispute with them.

“We are not playing games, I assure you,” he said. “We were backed into a corner (by the township). I can reapply for rezoning tomorrow. Market forces will ultimately prevail.”


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