By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FAIRFIELD - Plans to revitalize one of the city's oldest and most traveled business strips may be headed for a dead end.
For the past year, merchants and landowners along Ohio 4 have objected to the plan to spruce up the 5.9-mile stretch of the road through Fairfield, from Springdale to Hamilton.
And this week, after dozens of business owners packed council chambers to repeat their concerns, City Council sent the project to the planning commission for salvaging.
"I think it should be thrown out," Harold Maggard of the Dixie Deli told Fairfield leaders. "I don't think we need any more zoning or ordinances to restrict our businesses."
On Tuesday, some council members said the plan should be shelved. It has been watered down since it was proposed and now mostly includes landscaping, improved signs and entrance "gateways."
Why move forward, many said, when so many merchants are opposed?
According to the city's finance department, Fairfield has spent $154,266.26 on consulting work for the plan.
What's more, council members added, it could cost about $180,000 a year to maintain the new landscaping.
"We just committed to a $13 million justice center, and we may need to tighten our belts on some of the other projects," Councilwoman Jill Kinder said.
Since 1999, Fairfield has planned to clean up and make safety improvements along Ohio 4, which carries about 42,000 vehicles a day and is dotted with some 350 businesses.
City officials have earmarked $2 million for landscaping, intersection improvements and other steps. They also have applied for a federal grant to fund some of the cost.
As properties along Ohio 4 redevelop, it is expected the landowners would contribute to beautification.
But members of the Route 4 Business Association worry that beautification efforts will cause them to lose access off the road into their buildings, costing them customers.
The city has removed a previous recommendation of installing some medians in the road to control traffic.
But the business owners still are upset. They do not want to be required to install landscaping, saying it would block motorists' views of their properties.
They also want the speed limit reduced on the entire strip to 35 mph.
"We are here tonight as a last resort," Tom Burer of Winton Development, a founding member of the coalition, told council.
Burer and other coalition members say the plan should "embrace," rather than "try to hide," mainstay businesses along Ohio 4 such as car and boat dealerships.
"If they left, Route 4 would look like a ghost town."
Burer also stressed that the design portion of the plan is vague, saying he is concerned the brunt of the expense would be left to landowners.
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