Monday, March 24, 2003

Fairfield considers new center

Council to debate location

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FAIRFIELD - The debate over a location for an expanded or new justice center continues today as City Council narrows down potential sites.

The Fairfield Justice Center on Ohio 4 has grown outdated and overcrowded. Now, the city must either expand it or build a new one.

If the center must be moved, some city officials prefer using the site of a former Kroger building across from the Fairfield Municipal Building. Last year, the city spent $2.8 million to purchase the site and plans to raze the vacant shopping plaza this year.

Placing the justice center there with a mix of office and retail space would be a convenient site for residents and save money as the city also builds a $9.6 million community center, City Councilman Mark Scharringhausen says.

"I see no reason to spend any more tax dollars to buy a third site and add to the bottom line," he said. "We are in a tight budget year and need to stay on target. The only way we build both the community center and a new justice center is if we stay on target."

At a 6 p.m. work session today, council will eliminate eight of 10 possible sites, leaving two or three to chose from: the Kroger location, the justice center's current site off Ohio 4, and perhaps the Fair Plaza shopping plaza, north of Village Green at Ohio 127 toward Hamilton.

The final vote is expected by July. This fall, the city expects to break ground on the community center, which should open in Village Green in 2005.

But several residents and other council members say placing the city's courts and police department near Village Green, Fairfield's new downtown, would be a mistake. The Kroger plaza should be redeveloped to closely resemble Village Green with just a mix of shops and professional offices, they argue.

Councilwoman Jill Kinder says she has many reasons why placing the justice center at the former Kroger plaza is wrong. She also notes the city would have to purchase adjacent land.

"Once it gets started, there's no stopping it," she said. "We spent millions of dollars developing a family oriented downtown that other cities can envy. Last year, the court heard 462 felony cases. You don't know what's in that parking lot. There could be a perception the area is not safe."

Jack Loeffler, president of the Village Green Homeowners Association, agrees: "We have the greatest opportunity in the world to make this a (Village Green) extension and a real showplace."


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