Tonight the Over-the-Rhine Community Council will vote on whether or not to sign a letter of support for a proposed development at Elm and Liberty.
According to a post written by community activist, Margy Waller, on sway.com, this is a large, prominent piece of land with a massive development that will include 15,500 square feet of commercial space and almost 100 small apartments, plus a huge garage. Margy thinks the Community Council should withhold their support.
Not that she’s against the development of the property. Or this particular developer. Nobody is. Her point is that the community hasn’t been given enough information to make an intelligent decision on whether or not this plan works for the people who actually live here and know each other by name, homeowners and renters and business owners who believe in their little place on the planet more than any other and are intimately familiar with its challenges.
Why the rush? Why tonight? Why no time for questions or discussion? This is a decision Over-the-Rhine will live with for decades to come, an important conversation that deserves to be treated with respect. Quicky votes that limit input are the norm in publicly subsidized commercial real estate development.
The logic is always the same: If support isn’t given this minute, the whole deal could fall apart. The neighborhood is lucky anybody wants to risk private capital to build anything, with the ubiquitous “job creation” carrot dangled liberally throughout the argument – because “job creation” is accepted on such faith within the political community, it’s almost a religion. As long as a development is legal and can be financed, ALL development is always assumed to be good.
This deal is not going to fall apart if there’s more conversation. Big developments like this take decades to acquire properties, work with architects and lobby elected representatives. A few more months is not going to dampen the enthusiasm of the for-profit developer who has been dreaming this dream morning, noon, and night for years. They’re not going to walk away from what they’e already invested.
As population precipitously drained from our cities, municipalities had to do whatever they could to stabilize the tax base. Thank goodness the factors that required such desperate government intervention have finally reversed. Buyers now want what we’ve got- an affordable, walk-able, urban experience with unique historic building stock and non-chain everything on a sweet little bend in the river .
Citizens, it’s time we learned how to negotiate better deals. Which means we need to organize, show up for meetings, lobby politicians, and demand transparency. The point is not to stop development. But we absolutely have to get more for our money and lower the public risk, the exact same thing any smart for-profit investor tries to do.
This vote tonight is very, very important. Not just for the future of Liberty and Elm. It’s important for every neighborhood that wants a say in the investments taxpayers make for the Greater Good in whatever part of town has captured their heart. This vote is an important lesson in power to every Community Council in Cincinnati.
As Margy so astutely points out:
When developers seek our support—especially when they are hoping to get city investment, zoning and other land use changes, or other public benefits—it’s our moment of leverage.