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City rejects permit for North Avondale priest home

'The public is overwhelmingly opposed'
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Posted at 3:17 PM, Aug 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-14 09:17:33-04

NORTH AVONDALE — A permit that would have enabled a group of priests, religious brothers and Catholic missionaries to live at a residence in North Avondale was rejected today.

A Cincinnati hearing examiner rejected the conditional-use permit that would have enabled up to 10 members of the Legionaries of Christ to live at 3980 Rose Hill Ave.

"The Applicant failed to meet their burden to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the proposed use is compatible with the neighborhood and in the public interest," wrote David Sturkey, a hearing officer for the city of Cincinnati.

A spokesman for the Legionaries indicated the group would not appeal Sturkey's decision.

“The Legionaries of Christ are grateful to the City of Cincinnati for considering our petition and we are examining other housing options," Brother Ryan Carlin wrote in an email to the I-Team.

RELATED: North Avondale says no to priest home

Dozens of residents along Rose Hill and Beechwood avenues opposed the zoning change, arguing it would degrade the character of a street known for its spacious single-family homes and a diverse mix of families. Neighbors also raised concerns about parking, clergy sexual abuse and a perceived intolerance that the conservative Catholic religious order might bring toward LGBTQIA residents.

The group’s local leader tried to assuage those concerns in a four-hour zoning hearing on July 29.

“I actually appreciate your passion for your neighborhood and wanting it to be family friendly,” Father John Bullock testified. “I don’t think we would become the source of transient traffic (or a) predatory presence in the community that people sincerely are concerned about.”

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Father John Bullock, right, testified on behalf of the Legionaries of Christ at July 29 zoning hearing with Brother Ryan Carlin.

Fr. Bullock also challenged his intended Rose Hill neighbors to live up to their reputation for inclusiveness.

“I do think we have to be careful not to take the stereotype that a priest is more likely to be predatory than any other type of person,” he said. “I think anybody moving into the neighborhood, will they be vetted as much as we are being now?”

In the end, the group's past controversies were not a factor in Sturkey's rejection of the conditional use permit to establish a monastery in the single-family neighborhood.

"The Zoning Code defines convent and monastery use as 'group dwellings for members of religious orders,'" Sturkey wrote. "There was testimony introduced at the hearing that calls into question to what degree the lay missionaries are affiliated with the applicant’s religious order. It is the burden of the applicant to adequately demonstrate that the residents of the home will be members of the religious order. That burden was not met."

Sturkey's ruling cited neighborhood opposition as one of the factors in denying the permit.

"The record contains approximately 90 pieces of written correspondence in opposition to this proposal from dozens of neighboring property owners of which nearly all live in the Neighborhood," Sturkey wrote. "To some degree, a determination of the public interest must be made, in part, by the people that make up the public. In this case, the public is overwhelmingly opposed."

Sturkey also cited testimony questioning whether all those who would reside at 3980 Rose Hill Ave. would be members of the religious order.

Sturkey also embraced the neighborhood's argument that allowing up to 10 unrelated men to occupy a single-family home would alter the character of the neighborhood.

"The applicant’s argument relied primarily on the general assertion that the residents of the property will be good neighbors," Sturkey wrote. "While this may be true, the applicant bears the burden to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the proposed use is compatible and consistent with the surrounding neighborhood. A general promise of collegiality with neighbors and stewardship of the property falls short of that standard."