CINCINNATI — The Gamble estate in Westwood could become Cincinnati’s next major subdivision under a development opportunity now being shopped to local home builders. Greenacres Foundation, which has owned the land since 2009, has invited development proposals for the 22-acre site.
“It’s time to see who else would like to take this over,” said Greenacres president Carter Randolph. “It’s a wide-open canvas with 22 acres on it.”
Randolph's request for proposals, which he distributed through the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati, calls for developers to submit ideas by Aug. 1. It also asks developers to describe how the project would be financed, how it complies with Cincinnati and Hamilton County zoning rules and what impact it will have on surrounding homes.
“The Greenacres Foundation … will seek to find the proposal that will honor the foundation’s commitment to quality and the environment while enhancing the community,” the document said.
Home builders are actively seeking new sites on which to build, said Dan Dressman, executive director of the Home Builders Association.
“I don’t know the interest level on this specific tract of land, (but) builders who have adequate land positions are doing very well during the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. "There has definitely been a strong demand for new homes as people redefine their needs for sheltering in place.”
Randolph said the site is zoned to allow one home for every 10,000 square feet. That implies the site could be divided into 95 lots, although the number of home sites would likely be less due to topology and the need for roads and sewers to connect those lots.
“One guy said he could put around 65 houses there,” Randolph said. “The other possibility is maybe somebody wants to buy it to make it a park.”
The foundation has also received inquiries in the past from developers of a retirement community and a home for the the developmentally disabled. Randolph said he hopes to identify the best proposal to “manage the property or develop it, whatever the ideas are, and create something that’s good for the community” by the end of the year.
The property’s sale would end a tumultuous recent history for the once-working farm where James Norris Gamble lived from 1871 until his death in 1932. Gamble was the son of the founder of Procter & Gamble Co. He invented Ivory Soap in the kitchen of his Victorian mansion at 2918 Werk Road.
Gamble’s grandson, former Cincinnati Reds owner Louis Nippert, inherited the property in 1961. His wife, Louise Nippert, transferred it to Greenacres Foundation in 2009. One year later, the foundation sought a demolition permit for the 170-year-old house as part of a plan to convert the Gamble estate to a nature preserve where 2,000 school children a year could learn about agriculture, plant and animal life.
When Westwood activists balked at the demolition, City Council intervened by declaring the building historic. Although the demolition permit was eventually granted and the building torn down in 2013, the dispute led to a series of court cases that still aren’t over. In May, the foundation asked the Ohio Supreme Court to re-instate damages and attorney fees that it won with a 2018 jury verdict but lost in a First District Appellate Court ruling in February.
With the legal fight drawing to a close, Randolph said the foundation concluded it would be better to sell the Westwood property and acquire a larger site outside the city to pursue its plans for a nature education center.
“Originally, Mr. Nippert wanted to make it back into a complete working farm,” Randolph said. “But, you get into the scale of having chickens, cattle and sheep on 22 acres where people’s houses are not very far from your fence line. So, it becomes kind of a disturbance for your neighbors instead of a positive.”
The foundation also had little confidence that it could win zoning changes to accommodate a nature center on the Westwood site.
“There really doesn’t appear to be a place within city zoning that is supportive of a privately held nature center,” Randolph said. “I guess after 10 years we really just don’t want to go down a political road.”
The site's turbulent history won’t necessarily cause neighbors to oppose the site’s redevelopment, said Tom Sauter, president of the Westwood Civic Association.
“This is an opportunity,” Sauter said. “It’s time for everybody to get together and think about, ‘What do we do with 22 acres of prime real estate in the middle of the hottest neighborhood in the city?’”
Sauter hopes the foundation will seek community input early in its search process to maximize the impact of the site’s redevelopment.
“The neighborhood is on fire right now,” he said. “I had a friend who just tried to buy a house here and he had to be prepared to make an offer in two hours of viewing a listing. There’s no housing stock anywhere. Every real estate broker I’ve talked to, they can’t get a listing in Westwood for more than a day.”