Hyde Park residents push back against 'Wasson Tower' development

Posted at 3:22 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 07:26:53-04

CINCINNATI — Hyde Park residents met Tuesday night to air their grievances with an incoming development project along the newly opened Wasson Way mixed-use trail that connects their neighborhood with several others.

But their efforts might be too little, too late — if they had any recourse at all.

Dubbed "Wasson Tower," the six-story development will bring 51 luxury rental units and a 100-space parking garage to 3660 Michigan Avenue with the complex's front door opening right onto the trail that quickly became popular for walkers, runners and people riding bikes. It will also include a small amount of ground-level retail space.

Residents like Monica Ahrens, who has helped organize push-back against the project, said neighbors are primarily concerned with what they worry will be increased traffic to the area — particularly near the pedestrian- and bike-heavy trail — as well as drainage issues that can accompany large development projects.

"The big, big, big two issues are the traffic and the sewage problems in the area," said Monica Ahrens, one of the residents who have organized to insist a traffic study be done in the area before the project proceeds.

"A big, big concern is we just got this Wasson Way trail developed, and it used to be railroad tracks. And now there are so many runners and walkers and bikers and kids that are walking on this," she said.

This rendering depicts a development coming to Hyde Park along Michigan Avenue and the Wasson Way trail.

At Tuesday night's meeting, the group "Stop the Wasson Tower" had a petition with more than 2,000 signatures opposing the development. Residents like Kara Farnham were shocked to learn of the construction plans only one week ago.

"The idea of adding density to the space that's already a concern seems irresponsible," she said.

But Nick Lingenfelter, vice president of development for PLK Communities, said his team spent months making sure their plans fit within existing city code and zoning laws and that the development actually could solve some of the concerns residents have raised.

"When we acquired it, we knew there were some past environmental issues that needed to be dealt with, primarily that there were old rail lines," Lingenfelter said. "A big step that we're going through right now is that we're making sure that we're cleaning up the soil."

He also said the development includes building an underground water detention system to prevent future runoff issues.

As for traffic, Lingenfelter said, the plan takes that into account, too.

In years past, Lingenfelter said, the land held a carry-out and drive-thru restaurant and a garden center, which generated more traffic than the 51 units will. Had the land been repurposed for similar commercial uses, he said, traffic would have become much thicker in the area.

"That doesn't mean we didn't look at traffic patterns, look at how much (water) detention do we need, and other items like that before we designed the project," he said. "We're actually building to the code, which is somewhat of an anomaly in this city, because it's significantly hard to do that right now."

Other larger projects — including some of PLK's other communities, he said — require variances, or requests that the city change its codes and zoning, to accommodate a new real estate development. For 3660 Michigan, that's not the case, he said.

"Overall, we view this as a great improvement to the site," he said. "We want to make sure that the community is filled in on build timing, that the trail is going to stay open -- questions like that, we want to make sure we're answering."

Ultimately, residents said, they want a conversation. A chance to ask questions of the developers directly.

"We're asking PLK to do what's right: If they truly believe this is a benefit to the community, they should be proud to engage us, they should believe that what they're sharing with us, it's something that we would be proud and supportive of," Farham said.

The community council told residents there is not much that can be done because developers technically did not have to get community input on their plans. Additionally, the council has no authority in the matter.

They can, however, be a voice for the community and advocate their concerns to the Cincinnati City Council.

Cincinnati City Council member Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney was in attendance and echoed a similar sentiment to many in the room, asking, "Why hasn't the developer spoken to the community? Now, they don't have to, but they really should. There should be community engagement so that you can ask them all these questions directly."

Kearney said she spoke with PLK, who told her they are willing to sit down with concerned residents.

Construction is expected to begin next month and last through 2022.