Thursday, July 10, 2003

Norwood's growth swirls around reluctant couple

Denise Amos

Carl and Joy Gamble aren't firebrands.

The retired Norwood couple are mostly private, quiet types who don't join demonstrations or speak up at City Council meetings. They don't complain to elected officials.

Until now.

The Gambles may be the last true homeowners blocking a much-sought, mixed-use development in a rapidly growing corner of Norwood.

If they don't budge, some on City Council say they'll use eminent domain - a process by which a government condemns private property to seize it. Usually, seized property is used for public projects like new roads, but this time it may be the last resort to secure a private project.

The Gambles say they feel like they're holding back a whirlwind.

"All this swirling around us. We'd just like to be left in peace," Joy Gamble says quietly. "We're not activists. We've led a quiet, obscure life. We're just caught up in this."

If built, the planned Rookwood Exchange would wipe out the Gambles' street and up to two other long-established residential streets. It would replace them with office space, retail and 225 condos and townhouses.

The Exchange would complement the Cornerstone of Norwood project - office buildings being planned nearby by the same developer. Anderson Real Estate did not return phone calls for comment Wednesday. Company officials said earlier this week they're not pressuring homeowners to sell.

A planning study Monday made the projects sound inevitable for the Gambles' already changing neighborhood, which backs up to Rockwood Commons' traffic congestion and Interstate 71 and Norwood Lateral.

Still, the Gambles' street, Atlantic Avenue, looks like a sanctuary away from the bustle. Its two-story homes appear well-kept, with neat lawns and gardens. Many have curved archways, art deco-style fixtures and Rookwood mantles.

For all the neighborhood's quaint qualities, though, most property owners have signed agreements to sell.

Jeanne Dawson, a widow in her 80s who has lived there 40 years, is selling for what she says is nearly twice her home's worth. The developer's generosity, she says, means she can afford to move to a senior citizens development she's had her eye on.

"When you get older, it's harder to accept change. But for me, it's a blessing," she says.

The city's report says owners of only 11 of the 73 properties in the development's way have not signed contracts. The holdouts are actually fewer than that, mostly landlords and investors angling for better payouts, says Councilman William DeLuca.

The Gambles, he says, are the only "true homeowners" among the holdouts. Condemnation through eminent domain may be the easiest option, he says.

Just because the Gambles stand alone doesn't mean they should be bullied by eminent domain threats.

Norwood's City Council should still represent them, and not interfere with even two homeowners' rights.

E-mail or phone 768-8395

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