Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Evendale council rescinds 'blight' label for Reading Road corridor

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

EVENDALE - Reading Road property owners opposed to a "blight" designation won their battle Tuesday.

With little explanation, Village Council members voted 5-0 to repeal a 2001 urban renewal plan and the accompanying "blight" tag for 130 properties along the village's Reading Road corridor.

Reading Road property owners were worried Council would be swayed by a national trend where governmental bodies designate property blighted so that they can exercise eminent domain and sell land to developers interested in building movie theaters, shopping malls and other projects.

"The whole blighting of Reading Road was built on a house of cards," said Bruce Hassel, owner of A to Z Discount Printing. "The plan was a dirty deal from the start. (But) they've finally done the right thing."

Council also agreed to settle a lawsuit with Hassel and another business owner, Dan Regenold. They sued because they wanted to see documentation on how Evendale conducted its urban renewal study. Evendale will pay more than $17,000 toward the plaintiffs' attorney fees.

"It's a good day because we're not blighted anymore. The blight is definitely lifted," Regenold said. "They don't have to blight the Reading Road corridor to revitalize the area. I just applaud the decision."

He and about 40 other Evendale property owners last month protested the use of eminent domain for projects that aren't strictly public garages or street widening projects.

"People are starting to step up," Regenold said. "This isn't the way to take property. There are other way besides threats," he said. "We just made a decision to put these governments on record that these phony blight cases are not going to be all over Cincinnati."

But urban renewal - and the threat of blight - isn't dead in Evendale. After council's special Tuesday session, planning commissioners were presented with a new urban renewal plan that proposes different scenarios for improving Reading Road. Blight is still a possibility.

Councilman Phil Schneider said that, this time around, council members and planning commissioners would seek more public input. That's how council erred, he said, when approving the urban renewal plan repealed Tuesday.

"I don't feel like those property owners were ever threatened," he said. "We never told those property owners that we had any intention to take that property. They determined on their own that they were threatened."


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