By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NORWOOD - The possibility of commercial development seemed more likely Monday for the neighborhood targeted for Rookwood Exchange, a proposed $125 million complex of offices, shops, condos, apartments, restaurants and a parking garage.
Representatives of Cincinnati-based Kinzelman Kline Gossman unveiled an urban renewal study Monday concluding that the neighborhood's residential appeal has drastically diminished over the years.
Members of the Norwood Planning Commission unanimously agreed to move the urban renewal study on to City Council.
They also recommended adoption of the study, which highlighted the neighborhood's appearance, history, demographic patterns, traffic dilemmas and indicators of blight and deterioration.
Council will hold an Aug. 12 hearing before deciding whether to adopt the study.
If council adopts it, Norwood could use eminent domain proceedings to take about 15 of 79 properties that Anderson Real Estate and Miller-Valentine Group need to build Rookwood Exchange.
The developers say the neighborhood bounded by Interstate 71 and Edwards and Edmondson roads is the perfect place for the development, which would build on the success of nearby Rookwood Commons, a popular outdoor mall to the direct south.
The other property owners have agreed to sell.
City officials have acknowledged being tempted by the tax revenues promised by Rookwood Exchange's development.
They include up to an estimated $3.5 million in earnings taxes for the city and $400,000 in annual property taxes for the city's schools.
Councilwoman Cassandra Brown, who represents the neighborhood, attended the planning commission session and said that she likes what the urban renewal study has to say. Rookwood Exchange, she said, would prevent the neighborhood from being developed in a piecemeal fashion.
"This area keeps getting chopped up. That's my biggest concern," she said.
Residents of the area in question were anxious about the study's findings.
The document said that the properties "are generally in fair to good condition," but stressed that Interstate 71 and other developments in the area "have had a negative influence on ... what was once a higher-quality single-family residential area."
It also detailed the following signs of deterioration.
Faulty street arrangements that include poor buffering of sidewalk from traffic, dead-end streets with inadequate turn-around space for emergency vehicles, and houses on the north end of Edwards being close to a highway entrance ramp.
Indications that home repairs have been done without permits and an existing lack of required safety rails and handrails in some of the structures.
Age of the structures, which were built before 1930.
A lack of parking.
Substantial noise and visual pollution.
Carl and Joy Gamble, an elderly couple who remain committed to not selling to developers, said the study seems to be nitpicking.
They said they get frustrated with city officials who talk about doing what's best for Norwood.
"What's for the good of Norwood is if we can live in our homes safe and secure and don't have to live with the threat of these predators," Joy Gamble said.
The study was the result of several weeks' work, which included visiting the neighborhood.
"I don't think that any of us could walk through that neighborhood and not be impressed with those homes," said Craig Gossman, a partner with Kinzelman Kline Gossman.
But, "what we're looking at is the aggregate area. This is a deteriorating neighborhood from a quality-of-life position. That's what the summary suggests."
Richard Tranter, the developers' attorney, said that the study bodes well for the future.
"The consultants have confirmed that the neighborhood is deteriorating," he said.
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