Showdown set for North Avondale priest home

Neighbors gearing up for legal fight
Posted at 5:01 PM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-19 08:40:53-04

CINCINNATI — The North Avondale Neighborhood Association voted 60-2 Tuesday night to oppose a zoning permit that would enable a religious group to establish a home for up to 10 of its members at 3980 Rose Hill Avenue.

The vote followed new disclosures by the Legionaries of Christ about how the property would be used and a revised report by city zoning staff. The city report recommends approval of the conditional use permit when the matter comes to a zoning hearing July 29 at 10 a.m. The Legionaries of Christ is a Roman Catholic religious group made up of priests and men studying to become priests.

“A conditional use permit will not set a precedent for the neighborhood that would allow other types of group dwellings,” the July 13 report said. “A convent and monastery use is permitted in the district with conditional use approval. Transitional housing, dormitories, fraternities and most other types of group dwellings are not permitted.”

The recommendation was revised to include three new conditions:

  • No more than 10 residents can live at 3980 Rose Hill.
  • No services can be held there.
  • The residence can’t be used for transitional housing or other types of group dwellings.

RELATED: North Avondale says no to priest home

The Legionaries of Christ spoke to the neighborhood association before the group recorded its lopsided vote. In last night’s meeting, and in emails to the city of Cincinnati, the group said it “researched well over 450 properties in Greater Cincinnati” before selecting the Rose Hill property for its 10 bedrooms and “a large rear parking area” that can accommodate seven vehicles off the street.

The group also provided new details on who would live at 3980 Rose Hill. Its initial application said the home would be used for 7 to 10 “Catholic missionary priests.” But the July 9 email from Brother Ryan Carlin to city officials said “ordained priests, religious brothers” and “up to three full-time male lay missionaries” would live there for varying lengths of time.

“We are simply seeking a residence for our local community,” Carlin wrote. “It is not a place of public ministry, a half-way house, a homeless shelter, an Airbnb, or anything else of that nature. We want to live there while serving the Greater Cincinnati area — in schools, camps, retreat centers and parishes.”

Carlin’s email also addressed neighborhood concerns over past allegations of sexual abuse involving members of the order.

“In response to past failures, the church and our congregation have put protocols in place to create and preserve safe environments, including background checks, training, external audits and transparency in reporting,” Carlin wrote.

Rose Hill resident, Dr. Mel Nizny, said the neighborhood's vote against the Legionaries was 100-2, if you count the 40 people who voted against the conditional use permit via Zoom. He also predicted that the fight won't end with the July 29 hearing.

“They’ll say, ‘Well, we can’t find any reason to say no, OK? And that’s why I think they may well succeed in the first round in doing this," Nizny told the I-Team Wednesday. "The neighborhood will take it as far as it needs to go until we can be successful. If we don’t succeed at the Zoning Board of Appeals, the next step I understand is to go to the Court of Common Pleas."

In another significant development, the Legionaries have retained a high-profile real estate lawyer to argue its case. Joe Trauth, a partner at Keating Muething & Klekamp, notified city zoning officials that he represents Opdyke Inc., a nonprofit real estate company that has a contract to purchase the Rose Hill property.

“We have totally complied with the city’s requirements and there is no countervailing evidence to the contrary,” Trauth said.

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