CINCINNATI - The Avondale Community Council is asking the city to require a health impact study before granting approvals on zoning changes and street closures that would enable an expansion of up to $650 million at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
“Avondale has one of the highest rates of asthma in America,” wrote Community Council President Patricia Milton to Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann on March 31. “It is not acceptable for (Children’s Hospital) to win recognition for the care of sick children from local, national and international places while contributing to the health risks and potential early death for the children of Avondale.”
In an interview with WCPO, Milton argued the expansion will increase traffic congestion in Avondale, destroy 100 homes and reverse long-settled planning principals to guide new medical and research construction to the Reading Road corridor.
“How does this really impact the neighborhood?” Milton asked. “Everybody’s kind of scratching their heads as to how this whole thing has ballooned into what it has. Children’s Hospital did not include the community in any of their plans, which is most unfortunate.”
Children’s Hospital spokesman Terry Loftus said the expansion plan followed “a rigorous analysis of all possible solutions” and includes a 1,100-car parking garage expansion that will reduce traffic congestion in Avondale.
“The street reroute of Erkenbrecher will likely involve the removal of six to nine properties, all of which are owned by Cincinnati Children’s,” he added. “There are renters in some of these properties. We will provide relocation support for these people directly affected by the expansion.”
The hospital is planning a new emergency room and 10-store patient tower that would fill much of the block bordered by Erkenbrecher, Burnet, Hearne and Wilson avenues, north of its two existing patient towers. Loftus said that plan was deemed best for patients because they would be close to emergency services.
But it will require the rerouting of Erkenbrecher and closure of Hearne Ave. between Wilson and Burnet.
Milton said Children’s Hospital previously considered a westward expansion that would confine new construction to an area south of Erkenbrecher, closer to other Avondale institutions: The Cincinnati Zoo and Cincinnati VA Medical Center.
“The ideal would be for Children’s hospital to build their other option,” she said. “To keep peace with the neighborhood I feel that would be a good option for them and many other folks do also.”
Neighborhood activist Ozie Davis said the hospital has done “a horrendous job of articulating their vision for the neighborhood’s future and until they do that, the community opposition will continue to be great.”
Loftus said Children’s Hospital is already contributing heavily to the neighborhood’s future. Here’s a partial summary of the involvement he provided:
We fund and operate two school-based health clinics in Avondale year round at Rockdale Elementary and South Avondale Elementary.
Our Pediatric Primary Care Clinic is the medical home for many children in Avondale, but it also directly connects families to other resources as needed, including: food, housing, transportation and employment.
We have committed to invest $11.55 million over five years in Avondale,in the areas of community development, nonprofit partnerships and workforce development. We made our first round of grants last fall to nearly 20 agencies to help enable their capacity-building efforts.
Employees at Cincinnati Children’s help to raise money to support youth in Avondale through its Community Impact Fund. Just last week, we presented $6,000 to Rockdale Academy’s Groom Room and a $10,000 to the Avondale Angels Youth Baseball organization.
We made an initial investment of $250K in the Avondale Housing Improvement Program, which offers forgivable loans for home repairs. The Uptown Consortium launched the program in 2014 with Children’s Hospital and the Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation.
Milton said her community council is talking to residents most impacted by the expansion and compiling a list of possible remedies to the problems it poses. She expects the controversy will come to a head in June, when the hospitals zoning and street rerouting requests are expected to come before the Cincinnati Planning Commission in advance of a City Council vote.
“I don’t think the deal is done,” she said. “Our work is cut out for us to convince five City Council persons that the community was not included in this decision making and that this is being hastily taken through the process to avoid community reaction.”