Saturday, May 24, 2003

Evendale confronts 'blight'

Reading Road renewal plan causes intense debate

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

EVENDALE - Definitions of "blight" and the merits of a proposed urban renewal plan are being debated in this village.

As they have in previous sessions, the plan's opponents this week accused local officials of pursuing urban renewal to acquire property through eminent domain.

About 65 people attended the commission's monthly meeting, and many chose to speak out against the draft plan for the Reading Road corridor. If recommended by the planning commission and approved by Village Council, the draft would replace an earlier plan adopted in October 2001 but rescinded in April.

The new draft was prepared by consulting firm McBride Dale Clarion, which developed the earlier version. As part of the recent effort, consultants visited the designated area and re-evaluated the properties, said firm member Wendy Moeller.

The planners consolidated some property parcels, reducing the number of affected properties to about 100. These were assessed against 12 criteria, such as deterioration of structures, inadequate parking, location in the floodplain and crime. In most cases, fewer properties within the proposed area fell short of the standards than in the previous assessment, said Moeller.

"We recommend that, if you adopt this plan, you go back every two to three years and re-evaluate," she said. "There will be site improvements and other changes."

"The basic plan has not changed dramatically from the plan adopted in 2001," said Village Attorney Tim Burke. He told those present that the village had dropped the original plan because some property owners charged that the public notice process was faulty.

"It seemed to make sense to go forward with a new look" at a plan rather than spend time in legal wrangling, Burke said. "The repeal had nothing to do with any faults contained in the plan."

Others begged to differ.

"I think it's a terrible plan for Evendale," said Dan Regenold , owner of two businesses in the Reading Road corridor and vocal opponent of Evendale's urban renewal process. He criticized village officials for not sitting down with property owners and developing a plan together.

"Eminent domain and urban renewal are not the only ways to revitalize Reading Road; in fact, they are the worst ways," said Bruce Hassel, owner of A to Z Discount Quick Printing . He questioned the validity of the evaluation criteria.

Attorney Ken Heuck Jr., representing property owners Fred and Marian Orringer, argued that the village has a very strong property maintenance ordinance and that property owners are meeting its stipulations.

"Has the Evendale property maintenance code failed?" Heuck asked. "The truth is, there have been three building code violations in two years. You don't have any of these 10 or 12 problems (blight criteria) and the maintenance code is working. Please tell the council there's no basis for this plan."

"Approach landowners directly," business owner Gordon Geraci urged the Planning Commission. "I believe this urban renewal plan steers us down the wrong path."

Despite fears from some attendees that the Planning Commission would vote to "re-blight" the Reading Road corridor at Tuesday's meeting, no immediate action was contemplated, said commission Chairwoman Kay Bostrom .

"This is an information-sharing session, so we can consider input from residents and business owners, along with information from the urban renewal draft," she said.

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