Sunday, January 26, 2003

Developer: Norwood better hurry on Rockwood project

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NORWOOD - This city will lose the chance to become home to Rookwood Exchange, a glitzy $125 million "live, work and play" project unless City Council acts soon, developers said Saturday.

They said the economic climate is right to build the multi-use complex of offices, condos, apartments, shops and restaurants near the successful Rookwood Commons shopping center.

But they cautioned that possible tenants, including Closson's, could lose interest if council doesn't step in and claim about 25 holdout properties.

"Timing is critical. The success of Rookwood Exchange depends on ... the immediate cooperation of the city of Norwood," said J.R. Anderson of Anderson Real Estate in the packed mini-auditorium at Norwood High School. More than 200 people were anxious to grill developers and council members at a special town meeting.

"The project will become nothing more than a memory if Norwood does not intervene and exercise its constitutional power of eminent domain," Mr. Anderson said. "This vision ... will be nothing more than a pipe dream."

He urged council members to approve next month a redevelopment agreement that would contemplate the use of eminent domain - the taking of land for public purposes - for any holdout parcels on the triangular piece of land bounded by Interstate 71 and Edwards and Edmondson roads. About 55 of the 79 business and homeowners there already have agreed to sell.

The redevelopment agreement also would open discussions about a "planned unit development" agreement, which would give planning commissioners control over many aspects of the development if it's built, and possible tax breaks for the 2,500-spot parking garage to accompany Rookwood Exchange.

If the project comes to fruition, Rookwood Exchange promises to generate up to $3.5 million for the city in earnings tax revenues. The city is expecting to conclude this year with a $1.9 million deficit.

But Councilman Will DeLuca said council members would not be rushed. They need time, he said, to consider residents' concerns about eminent domain, which would involve designating the targeted neighborhood blighted.

He also wants to respect the residents who have already agreed to sell and are upset because their lives are in limbo.

And then there's Mr. Anderson.

"This gentleman has proposed something in this city of Norwood, and I have an obligation as the city's representative to take him seriously and to, No. 1, do what's right for the city of Norwood," said Mr. DeLuca, chairman of the council's Community Development Committee. "I'm going to do what's right for this city as long as I'm here."

Almost 40 people spoke at Saturday's town meeting. The vast majority spoke favorably of the project, saying that council has to decide whether to maintain "the status quo" and let the neighborhood of tidy, well-kept homes stand or help the developers move forward with Rookwood Exchange.

Those who have already agreed to sell said the neighborhood's residential feel is gone, stripped by the heavy traffic that often travels along Edwards and Edmondson roads.

The property owners refusing to sell were very vocal, wearing signs that said: "Eminent domain is for public use only. Rookwood Exchange is a private development. Get it?"

Melody Siska, an Atlantic Avenue resident, refuses to sell. The development of her neighborhood may be inevitable, but "my death is inevitable. I don't want to hurry it along. If it's inevitable, it'll happen without council."

Norwood residents that don't live in the targeted neighborhood also are concerned about the possible use of eminent domain.

"The fact that you guys are even willing to consider eminent domain scares me to death," said Mary Barber, a Norwood native.


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