Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Norwood may OK blight study of development area



By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NORWOOD - Council may grant today another wish for developers pushing to build Rookwood Exchange, a $125 million complex of offices, apartments, condominiums, shops, restaurants and parking garage.

Four months after Anderson Real Estate and Miller-Valentine Group made the request, council members will officially ponder whether to pursue an "urban renewal study." To be financed by the developers, the effort will aim to prove a tidy, middle-class neighborhood "blighted" so that the development can move in.

Council's community development committee unanimously voted last week to let the planning commission pursue the study on 79 properties bounded by Interstate 71 and Edwards and Edmondson roads. Council already has said yes to negotiating a redevelopment agreement that will delve into issues of condemnation.

"It's getting bad. It's getting out of control," said Joe Horney, co-leader of Citizens Against Eminent Domain Abuse, the opposition group that sprang from the developers' study request. "It is my theory that in questioning blight, they are creating blight. It's also aimed at their ultimate goal to destroy the property values and then acquire it for what they feel is a better use."

About 20 of the 79 property owners continue to resist the developers' offers. Anderson Real Estate and Miller-Valentine have said the study's findings are key only if they can't get all property owners to sell.

The study would delve into the neighborhood's appearance and all documentation that would indicate tax delinquencies and health, fire and safety violations. But council would have the final say on designating the neighborhood blighted.

If the homes are designated blighted, the city could exercise eminent domain, buy the holdout properties and sell them to developers. In exchange, this cash-strapped city could anticipate receiving up to $3.5 million in earnings tax revenues a year from the proposed development.

"We all agree that we're not going to find houses with broken windows, gutters falling down and your typical blight," said Will DeLuca of council's community development committee. But, "what exactly is the trend in that area? Obviously the trend isn't toward strong single-family dwellings. I don't think you see people having block parties or anything associated with residential neighborhoods. I do believe the area is deteriorating."

The study also will focus on property targeted for Cornerstone of Norwood, a $44 million mixed-use project to appear on a wedge bordered by Interstate 71, Williams Avenue and Smith Road.

Today's council session will begin at 7:30 p.m. in council chambers, 4645 Montgomery Road.

E-mail svela@enquirer.com




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