Friday, October 19, 2007

OTR Foundation asks City to look into CPS contract

The Over the Rhine Foundation (OTRF) has raised concerns with the City over Cincinnati Public Schools' (CPS) ideas for land in the neighborhood and are looking to amend a contract.

In a four-page letter to the City's Historic Conservation Board, dated September 28, 2007, OTRF Executive Director Michael Morgan alleges that the City is allowing CPS to bypass historic review standards and evade an agreed-upon contract by allowing a 219-space gravel parking lot to be built on the north end of Washington Park.

CPS has said that this lot is necessary as a staging area for the new SCPA, which is being built on the block south of Washington Park. After that project is complete, the lot will be used for temporary parking during construction of the 630-space Music Hall Square Garage.

The OTRF sees it as a purely cost-cutting move that will mar the landscape there for the next several years. They also question the razing of four contributing properties along Race Street for temporary surface parking and say that CPS continually ducked that issue as well.

In the 2003 contract between the City and CPS, promises were made that the former Washington Park site would be deeded to the Parks Department for an extension of Washington Park as part of a 13.8-acre property transfer. There was no mention of a parking lot phase.

The contract language states that CPS will "use best efforts to investigate the possibility of transferring surplus school properties in Over-the-Rhine to the City to be controlled by the Park Board for greenspace," which is widely viewed as unenforceable. Morgan also has concerns that the parking lot use will stall the transfer of property, which the contract says must happen by 2013.

The OTRF is asking that the City amend its contract with CPS to include the clarification that the Washington Park and SCPA greenspace will be transferred to the Parks Department within five years, with use for Music Hall parking possible only after its transfer from CPS possession.

Until the contract can be amended, the OTRF is asking the City to stop granting CPS variances and exceptions.

So far, the OTRF has been ignored. The City Solicitor won't touch the subject, the Planning Department refers to it as "someone else's contract" and the Parks Department is looking into leasing the land from CPS, even though it is promised the land by contract.

Instead, the City is allowing a situation to occur where CPS could sell the land to whoever it pleased and the City would get nothing at all.

This action takes place at a time when there is a lot of mistrust between the neighborhood and CPS. Morgan points to the following questionable CPS actions:

* The demolition of four transitional housing structures on the north side of Washington Park that were bought from the Drop Inn Center
* An unadorned, blank wall on the back of the new SCPA which will face Washington Park, which Morgan equates with CPS "literally turning its back on Over-the-Rhine"
* No plan for the vacated SCPA building and its surrounding greenspace
* An announcement that they may raze Rothenburg school, despite prior recognition of its role as a neighborhood anchor

For the time being, CPS has agreed not to build a chain-link fence around the parking lot site.

Council has passed the issue along to the Education, Health and Recreation Committee, which handles City partnerships with CPS. A report from City Manager Milton Dohoney is also expected by early November.