By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NORWOOD - Developers eager to buy working-class homes so they can build Rookwood Exchange, a $125 million mixed-use project, have thinned the ranks of owners in the past year.
But the seven property owners who have resisted Anderson Real Estate and Miller-Valentine Group's offers have presented a strong, united front.
On Tuesday they will make a last stand, pleading with their elected representatives to hear what they've been saying for so long.
Their properties, these residents say, should not be designated blighted or deteriorated because they're in an aging neighborhood.
"That's bull, ain't it?" said Carl Gamble, who refuses to sell his two-story Atlantic Avenue home.
On Tuesday, he and his wife, Joy, will rally at 6:30 p.m. outside Norwood High School's mini-auditorium, 2020 Sherman Ave., to protest an urban renewal study that says their home has signs of blight.
They'll also voice their concerns at a 7:30 p.m. public hearing, where council members have asked for input on the study.
If adopted, the document would allow the City of Norwood to take the holdout properties by eminent domain and sell them to the developers so they can build condos, offices, apartments, shops, restaurants and a parking garage.
The project promises millions of dollars in tax revenue for the city.
"This is the big grand finale," said Nick Motz, co-leader of Citizens Against Eminent Domain Abuse, a group that once numbered about 30 holdout property owners. Council members "are hoping that those of us who don't want to sell will cave in and go away. (But) this will be the final clincher."
A crowd of at least 100 is expected at Tuesday's hearing.
Going head to head will be the property owners who have already agreed to sell and the hold-out owners. The latter group will be joined by supporters from Hyde Park, Oakley and other Hamilton County communities and Washington, D.C., lawyers from the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm.
Council members are expecting hours of debate but won't officially consider adopting the urban renewal study until their Aug. 26 session.
"We all want to move on and make a decision one way or another," Councilman Keith Moore said. "The developers, the residents. They're all stuck."
Moore said he'll probably vote in favor of the urban renewal study, which was financed by the developers and allows for tax-increment financing.
The study focused on the 73 properties that they need to build Rookwood Exchange on land bounded by Interstate 71 and Edwards and Edmondson roads. It also included properties that have been targeted for Cornerstone of Norwood, a $44 million mixed-use project that is going to be built on a wedge bordered by Interstate 71, Williams Avenue and Smith Road. The study, unveiled in July by Cincinnati-based Kinzelman Kline Gossman, said that the properties are in fair to good condition but emphasized that I-71 traffic and other developments have eroded the neighborhood's residential appeal.
Signs of deterioration include faulty street arrangements, a lack of parking, age of the structures and substantial noise and visual pollution.
"It validated some of the thoughts that I had. This is not a good place for single-family homes," said Cassandra Brown, ward representative for the neighborhood.
One of the developers, Brian Copfer of Miller-Valentine Group, said the next month will prove crucial to the future of Rookwood Exchange.
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