Saturday, August 23, 2003

North Bend's existence in hands of voters

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Miles Pies, 14 (left) and his dad, Oliver, spray-paint a plywood Halloween silhouette they made in front of their Miami Avenue home Friday afternoon in North Bend.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
NORTH BEND - The future of this old Ohio River town, the home of presidents and pioneers, is as unpredictable as future river levels.

It hinges on a ballot issue in November, when residents will decide whether to dissolve their historic village, population 603, to become a part of neighboring Miami Township.

At its heart, it's a battle between the "old village" and the "new village." The two are governmentally the same, but culturally and financially much different places.

"I don't think they will eliminate the village," said Margaret Knapp, a villager and retired teacher at Taylor High School. "I think the voters will understand that the desires of moving forward are not as important as the desire to maintain our history."

There's plenty of history in this working-class town and its older homes, many of which were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and typically sell for under $100,000.

The town was the home of William Henry Harrison, the ninth U.S. president, who is buried in a tomb on Mount Nebo overlooking the river. His grandson, future president Benjamin Harrison, was born in North Bend.

It is also the home of the old brick Taylor High School, which looks like a set from the film Hoosiers. A white and blue sign proclaims: "You're In Yellow Jacket Country!"

Along U.S. 50, on a hill to the east of town, stands the opposite of history - the swanky new Aston Oaks development and golf course. Here, single-family homes cost from $300,000 to much more than $1 million.

The ballot issue originated with several residents of Aston Oaks. They say people who support the dissolution have their own reasons for wanting to leave North Bend - some of them financial.

Aston's developer and builder, John M. Niehaus, said the process started this way:

"Two people from Aston Oaks, which I call the new village, asked me how we could see if the people of North Bend wanted to go to the township. When I went to the next township meeting, two people from the old village asked me the same question. So I talked to more than 10 people, and only one initially said he'd like the town to remain a village. I then proceeded to find out what we had to do to make it happen."

He said 10 people circulated petitions for the elections board, which certified 179 signatures as valid. The village has about 475 residents of voting age, according to U.S. Census figures.

"When I went around to people to obtain signatures, I said that the whole issue to me is this: How many people ever get a chance to decide what form of government they want to live under - village or township?

"To me, we should let the people decide. That's the big issue. Just let them decide."

Former mayor Alan S. Montague, whose son Alan Montague II is on village council, said North Bend should remain a village.

"My family has had four generations of elected officials in this town," he said. "The history here is fantastic. We have an identity."

People in Aston Oaks pay higher real-estate taxes in North Bend than they would in Miami Township, by about 2 percent, Niehaus said.

The 680-acre development also spreads into Miami Township and Cleves. About 350 acres are in North Bend.

"We actually own half the village," Niehaus said.

Although the November ballot issue is imperative to the town's future, resident Oliver Pies said he hasn't heard much talk about it from council.

"The residents who I've talked with say it's a bad idea," he said. "But there's a lot of money behind it, and money talks. The people in Cleves faced a similar situation and they talked, too - at the ballot box."

In 1998, voters in Cleves rejected a ballot issue that would have disbanded their village in favor of going into the township.

Now, North Bend must decide whether its autonomy is worth keeping.

"We've got a lot of history," resident Lucy Stormer said. "The town is a hidden thing. A lot of people from the outside don't even know what we have here. I hope we all do."


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