Saturday, February 22, 2003

Norwood, builders making pact

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NORWOOD - Worried about losing up to $3.5 million in earnings tax revenues, City Council has agreed to draft a redevelopment agreement with two developers wanting to expand the successful Rookwood Commons.

Council members are now reviewing a "wish list" submitted by Anderson Real Estate and Miller-Valentine Group, the developers who envision Rookwood Exchange - a $125 million project of offices, condos, apartments, shops, restaurants and parking garage - where a neighborhood now stands.

The "wish list" highlights the possible use of eminent domain if developers cannot get all 79 property owners to surrender their land, which is just north of Rookwood Commons, between Interstate 71 and Edwards and Edmondson roads.

City attorneys are reviewing the document, which also mentions tax increment financing, party responsibilities and zoning matters. But Councilman Will DeLuca views its 50 pages as a starting point that will be renegotiated in the weeks to come.

Councilman Michael Fulmer warned that he would not approve any redevelopment agreement that considers eminent domain, which is the city's ability to take property. Traditionally exercised for public uses, government bodies are more frequently using eminent domain to acquire property for developers.

"I don't believe in talking about eminent domain (so) I don't think I'm going to go along with it," Fulmer said. "If it's in the agreement, they have the option of using it."

Members of the council's community development committee, City Solicitor Tim Burke, Law Director Vicki Garry and bond counsel Tim Quinn, will negotiate the redevelopment agreement for the city.

DeLuca, who chairs the community development committee, sees the imminent need to make some difficult decisions about the holdout property owners who refuse to take the money offered by developers.

About 60 of the 79 property owners have agreed to sell. The others have banded together to form Citizens Against Eminent Domain Abuse. Members remain a vocal minority.

"That's something we're going to have to look at," he said. "I don't want to see (the residents) asking for an exorbitant amount. (But) I don't think it's fair to hold this city hostage."

Developers asked for the redevelopment agreement last month. Brian Copfer of Miller-Valentine has told council members that he needs them to agree to consider eminent domain by March 31 or risk the project losing interest.

"Then we can still hit our target on closing on all the properties by end of this year," he said.

The opposition has hired an attorney and promises to keep fighting the issue of eminent domain. But they're not surprised to learn that Norwood council will pursue a redevelopment agreement.

Council members are expected to OK a "planned unit development" overlay for the targeted property Tuesday. Requested by city administrators, the designation would give planning commissioners control over lighting, parking space, easement and other matters.

And now there's the redevelopment agreement.

Nick Motz and Joe Horney, co-leaders of Citizens Against Eminent Domain Abuse, said they're not surprised to see council members start to succumb to developers' wishes. But they concurred that their fight is far from over.

"We're not ready to back down. It would go back to the simple fact that condemnation is not to be used for private use but for public use," Horney said.

Tuesday's council session will begin at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 4645 Montgomery Road.


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