Thursday, January 30, 2003

Residents' concerns put Pisgah plan on hold

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - Plans to revitalize one older section of this fast-growing township will move forward, but rehabilitation efforts in Pisgah remain stalled.

After merchants and homeowners in Pisgah, West Chester's original business district along U.S. 42 from Mason to Sharonville, formed a coalition and hired an attorney, the township delayed a redevelopment plan.

The residents and merchants of "West Chester 42 Citizens" say they want more input and plan to give the township a list of their top five dos and don'ts for the area.

"There is outright fear in that part of the community," Trustee Catherine Stoker said. "I really think we are being kind of premature on this. I don't think we are even close to approving a plan."

Funding the effort also remains a key point of contention for the merchants and residents. They want to know up front if they will be asked to foot some of the costs.

"The plan as it stands does not represent the people's interests," said Ken Van Skaik, owner of Van Skaik's Antiques. "Why the particular rush? This is not a small issue for us. This is an important issue and not something that should happen so fast."

Trustee Jose Alvarez recently proposed forming a tax increment financing (TIF) district in Pisgah to generate some money to help pay for improved lighting, parking lots, medians and to reduce curb cuts.

A preliminary estimate on the overall plan ranges from $10 million to $15 million.

But Assistant Administrator Judith Carter told trustees Tuesday that a TIF in Pisgah would not be viable. Pisgah mostly holds homes, not businesses, and the businesses that are there probably won't expand anytime soon, if ever, she said.

She suggested the township pursue federal and state funds and community block grants to fund the effort.

Meanwhile, trustees are expected next month to approve a redevelopment plan for Olde West Chester along Cincinnati-Dayton Road from Union Elementary School to West Chester Road. They held their first reading on the plan Tuesday.

Merchants and trustees are agreeable to the project, which will start with improved sidewalks as the first of many small steps the township can begin taking to improve the area.

Business owners in Olde West Chester have sunk a lot of money and time into rehabilitating old homes that line the street in recent years, turning dilapidated structures into thriving businesses.

Now, they say, it's time for the township to reinvest into the area, too, as a way to spur even more economic development.

An overall improvement project has been estimated to cost about $5 million. While businesses likely would be required to help pay, grants and community development programs could help, too, township officials say.

Fifteen businesses operate in Olde West Chester, but at least seven have left in recent years. Two newer businesses, The Village Spa and A Coffee Affair, are bustling.


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