Cincinnati City Council hopes 'scorecard' will keep development projects in line with priorities

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Posted at 5:39 PM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 21:02:52-05

CINCINNATI — Last week's battle at City Hall over whether an $80-million development project at Liberty and Elm streets in Over-the-Rhine had to include affordable housing units demonstrated and renewed a problem that some on City Council have been working years to solve.

During Council's Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday, there was general agreement that more clarity was needed on the city's priorities when choosing whether to grant real estate developments financial incentives like tax abatements, but members debated the particulars of a proposed "scorecard."

The idea is to outline what sorts of attributes -- such as affordable housing, neighborhood input, inclusive contracting or local hiring, say -- should dictate whether a development project gets assistance from the city. Before presenting a development deal for City Council's approval, the administration would fill out the scorecard indicating which priorities that project meets and how.

City Councilman Greg Landsman said such a scorecard would have avoided the controversy that surrounded the Liberty and Elm deal in its last stages.

"This would have made a big difference," said Landsman, who proposed the scorecard. "At the beginning of the process with Liberty and Elm -- a year, year and a half ago -- all of these priorities would’ve been in front of the administration and the developer, and I think that would’ve resulted in a much different and better deal."

City Council voted last week to move forward with the project, without adding any affordable housing units to the plan. A day later, City Councilwoman Jan-Michele Kearney filed a motion requiring all future, major residential developments include an affordable housing element.

Ultimately, Monday's committee sent Landsman's scorecard back to the administration for further refinement.

Kristen Baker heads up the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and said she agrees more clarity is needed.

"I think more transparency for developers and for neighborhoods and community members to understand exactly what the city’s priorities are is valuable, yes," she said.

Speaking directly to the issue of affordable housing, Baker said she hopes Council will consider a balance between new affordable housing and providing resources to residents who already live in the neighborhood.

"I think a lot of the pain that we feel around about what’s been happening in OTR is the neighborhood has changed a lot in the last 15 years," she said. "So, making sure in complement with supporting development that’s new and necessary to help stimulate economic growth, that we're also supporting the existing residents and homeowners and landlords that are there with tools and lower-interest loans to be able to make improvements to their properties."