groups in Lower Price Hill are opposing a city-backed plan that
would classify dozens of homes as blighted and make them vulnerable
to seizure by the city.
The homes would become part of an urban renewal area around an
industrial site targeted for cleanup. The "blight" designation would
help in securing state and federal funds for cleaning up the
possibly contaminated Queen City Barrel Co. property.
nothing wrong with this neighborhood," said Eileen Gallagher, a
Lower Price Hill resident for about 20 years. "This is being done to
bail out one company, but it should be the responsibility of the
owner to clean up that land."
closer look |
in 1927, Queen City Barrel cleans, reconditions and
resells industrial barrels.
• Following public outcry by residents and
years of being cited by regulatory agencies for failing to
comply with environmental laws, the company invested about $3
million in pollution-control equipment during the mid-'90s.
Gallagher is a member of the Lower Price Hill Community Forum, a
group that opposes the urban renewal plan.
Further, they say, taxpayer money shouldn't be used to clean
Queen City Barrel.
The residents prefer instead that the company's owners foot the
After a contentious meeting earlier this week, the Lower Price
Hill Community Council -- the group formally designated by the city
to represent the neighborhood -- also voted to oppose the plan.
Although Queen City Barrel once employed 200 people at its South
Street facility, the firm is closing the site and transferring
operations to Columbus.
Peg Moertl, director of the city's community development and
planning department, said the residents' fears about eminent domain
are unfounded. A developer has expressed interest in the property if
it is free of any lingering contaminants and Queen City Barrel can't
afford any possible cleanup, Moertl said.
The potential tenant would create much-needed jobs, she
added, and any cleanup would be paid using a state fund set aside
for reclaiming so-called "brownfield" sites.
Queen City Barrel representatives couldn't be reached for comment
Under the city's proposal, a portion of Lower Price Hill from the
Ohio River on the south and extending beyond Liberty Street to the
north, between State Avenue and the Queensgate area, would be dubbed
The area is mostly used for commercial and industrial uses, but
includes 63 of the neighborhood's roughly 200 residences.
A city blight study determined that 72 percent of the structures
and vacant parcels in the area are deteriorating, and that public
improvements are in "a general state of deterioration."
City law defines blighted areas as those that "contribute to the
spread of disease and crime, are an economic and social liability,
and impair the sound growth of the community."
The designation allows city officials to acquire private property
in the area and hold it for possible future development.
"The city's study is pure puffery that allows them to justify
spending money for the cleanup," Gallagher said. "For most of the
time they were talking to the community about this project, the
study wasn't even done."
Some City Council and planning commission members strongly
endorse the effort.
"If we have an opportunity to take that space -- which people
have been upset about for years -- and do something exciting there,
we should do it," said City Council Member Jim Tarbell. "It's really
kind of in limbo right now."
"My sense is that the people working on this plan are
well-intentioned," said Don Mooney, the planning commission's
chairman. "If we have the opportunity to revitalize a site that is
under-utilized and create jobs and tax revenue, why shouldn't we
But opponents are concerned because they say officials are
rushing the plan through the city's normal approval process without
enough review and limited public input to meet a deadline to apply
for state aid.
City staffers began the process in late March and only released a
final version of the plan this week.
The planning commission will make a recommendation on the plan
today, and City Council is scheduled to vote June 18, before members
take an extended summer break.
Some residents distrust the city, noting a history of botched
economic development efforts.
Officials had the chance to keep Queen City Barrel within
Cincinnati and add some jobs in 1998, when the company wanted to buy
the former Conrail site on River Road from the city, opponents said.
City staffers, though, wanted to lure a larger employer to that
site. And the city refused to rebuild a 150-year-old water main
under another site that Queen City Barrel considered.
Also, opponents cite what they call abuses of eminent domain
Those include Norwood's attempt to force residents from their
homes for the Rookwood Exchange project, and Cincinnati's own
efforts to redevelop Calhoun Street in Clifton and to attract big
box retailers in Oakley -- all over the objections of residents.
"Given recent experiences in Norwood and elsewhere, urban renewal
and blight have taken on a very negative connotation," Moertl
There will be no push to use eminent domain in Lower Price Hill,
"The only way that would be used is to break free vacant
properties," he said. "We're not going to displace people from their