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OTR Community Council says $77M development will hurt low-income residents

WCPO OTR against development.png
Posted at 6:39 PM, Jan 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 08:28:23-05

The Over-the-Rhine Community Council hopes to stop a proposed $77 million mixed-use development at Liberty and Elm streets even as the developer asks City Council for an expansion.

The conflict, which includes accusations of gentrification and public corruption, will play out in a public hearing in front of the Economic Development and Zoning Committee Wednesday at 11 a.m.

The Liberty-Elm project has been in the works for years, and its shape has changed several times; the version set to go before members of City Council includes 294 luxury apartments, several thousand square feet of commercial space and a parking garage. To accommodate all of it, the developer hopes to add a building at 1621 Logan Street to the project.

The problem, according to Over-the-Rhine Community Council president Maurice Wagoner, is that none of the apartments are affordably priced for lower-income residents and the city is offering developers hefty tax breaks for working on it.

“It’s the largest gentrified project that’s loaded with millions of dollars of taxpayer money and zero affordable units,” Wagoner said.

Sheila Quarles, who lives in Over-the-Rhine, said she loves her home but worries about new developments robbing the area of its charm and rich history. The more expensive properties get built, she added, the harder it is for ordinary people and longtime residents to remain there.

“Every time they develop something, the taxes go up for people,” she said. “And in a minute, I'm not going to be able to afford to live in the neighborhood that I've come to love."

It’s an ongoing problem for Over-the-Rhine — one Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition president Josh Spring said has contributed to the city’s homelessness crisis. He claims the area has lost 2,300 units of affordable housing since 2005.

Spring and Wagoner both believe the deal is being rushed.

“We’re all sick of it,” added Danny Klingler, vice president of the Over-the-Rhine Community Council.

In a statement, City Manager Paula Boggs-Muething wrote that she supports the project and believes the developer would be giving back to the community by breaking ground.

“The proposed project represents a $77 million private investment that will transform a vacant lot and vacant buildings into residences and businesses, creating density and jobs,” she wrote. “After two years of community engagement and compromise on the part of the developer, including a $750,000 contribution to the City's affordable housing trust fund, it is clear that moving forward with this project is in the best interests of the City.”

The zoning committee will hear public feedback Wednesday, and City Council will vote Thursday at its next scheduled meeting.