Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Norwood blight fight heats up

As vote nears, neighborhood still divided

By David Eck
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Edward Casagrande of Smith Road in Norwood holds a yard sign at a rally Tuesday at Norwood High School against an upcoming Norwood City Council vote that may declare a neighborhood blighted, allowing the city to take properties by eminent domain and sell them to a developer.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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NORWOOD - The number of holdout properties is down to six, a council vote could come in two weeks, and many people in Norwood want the Rookwood Exchange controversy settled.

"I want out. I want out now. It's time to tear these houses down," Edwards Road resident Sandy Dittoe told Norwood City Council at a public hearing Tuesday night at Norwood High School.

More than 120 people, many carrying protest signs, packed the public hearing to discuss a controversial urban renewal study that indicates a Norwood neighborhood is deteriorating and may no longer be compatible for residential use.

The controversy centers on the proposed $125 million mixed-use Rookwood Exchange planned for near the popular Rookwood Commons and Rookwood Pavilion shopping areas.

The study, if adopted by council, would allow the city to take the six properties by eminent domain and sell them to developers. Council is expected to take action on the study at its Aug. 26 meeting.

Despite a protest rally before the public hearing, several people at the hearing spoke in favor of proceeding with Rookwood Exchange.

Tim Grondin, who also lives on Edwards, said the area is no longer compatible for residential use.

"The quality of life has gone down a lot. I really believe in the development. This is a development that will help keep people in the city," he said.

"It's going to come to the point where the city has to make a decision," said Councilman Keith Moore, who has said he will likely vote in favor of the urban renewal study. He is the only member of council to reveal his vote. "There are people who have been under (option) contracts for a year. And they're just trapped," he said.

At a rally before the public hearing in front of Norwood High School that attracted about 75 people, Norwood resident Amanda Newsom said, "I myself hate looking out my window... and I hate to see all the development. I don't know what they need all those offices for."

Resident Susan Knox said, "I'm not opposed per se to that development. I'm opposed to the means. It's wrong. It's absolutely wrong."

Typical signs at the rally: "Their house today, your house tomorrow." "Eminent domain is theft." "Norwood for $ale by council."

An urban renewal study, paid for by the developers and unveiled in July, indicated the working-class homes in the neighborhood - bounded by Interstate 71, Edwards and Edmonson roads - are in fair to good condition.

But it also said interstate traffic and proximity to the wildly popular Rookwood shopping complexes have eroded its residential appeal.

A walkthrough Tuesday organized by opponents of the office-retail-condo development showed well-kept properties and a viable neighborhood, according to Scott Bullock, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit law firm that fights eminent domain abuse.

Bullock told council that there are no dilapidated homes or structural problems in the target area, and that no property in that area is delinquent on taxes. He said the area is a functioning community.

"It (the study) is designed to get the result that they wanted to get," he said.

The study, if adopted by council, would allow the city to take property in the neighborhood by eminent domain and sell it to the developers, Anderson Real Estate and Miller-Valentine Group.

The project promises millions of dollars in tax revenue for the city, a former factory town going through a metamorphosis through housing rehabilitation, new business and the attraction of the two other Rookwood shopping centers.

The developers have signed purchase contracts with the owners of 65 of the 73 parcels, and offers are pending to two other homeowners, according to J.R. Anderson, director of development for the Anderson firm.

The five remaining owners, who control six parcels, refuse to negotiate, Anderson said. These include two businesses on Edmondson Road, directly across from Rookwood Commons: Kuman Learning Center and Hyde Park Holistic Health Center. "To use eminent domain to acquire the property simply because it would bring in bigger a tax base is not what eminent domain was designed for,'' said Joe Horney, a leader of the property owners fighting the possibility of losing their property.

"Numbers and percentages have absolutely nothing to do with eminent domain,'' he said. "It could be one person or a hundred people, it's still not in compliance with the Constitution. It's not a numbers and percentage issue.''

Reporter Ken Alltucker contributed. E-mail

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