Tuesday, December 11, 2012

College Hill: Affordable development not 'highest and best use'

College Hill neighborhood leaders are asking the City to help them stop a 50-unit affordable housing development that would take up more than one-third of developable land at its most prominent intersection.

In a Nov. 28 letter to City officials, College Hill Forum President Phyllis Slusher, College Hill Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation President Mike Cappel, and College Hill Business Association President Juanita Canfield have asked the City to use its influence to deny a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) application from Akron-based Alpha Phi Alpha Homes (APA) to acquire and build on a 3.5-acre City-owned site at 1630 North Bend Road, commonly known as the Eastern Star property.

The property is part of three parcels containing a total of 8 acres, including a vacant Kroger store on the northwest corner and the former Shuller's Wigwam restaurant on the northeast corner of Hamilton Avenue and North Bend Road.

On November 27, representatives from Alpha Phi Alpha presented their plans to the College Hill Forum, and they were not well received.

"Our officers made clear to APA that not only would there be no community support for their plans, in fact, there would be strong, vocal and ongoing opposition," the letter said. "APA, in turn, made it clear that they intended to go ahead with their application with or without community support. They said they came to 'advise' us, not ask us."

The neighborhood is not opposed to public housing in principle, the letter said, citing prior support for the Salvation Army's expansion of the Booth Residence and a private development on Belmont Avenue as examples.

But College Hill leaders want to ensure that the entire property is developed as a "highest and best use" master development, as envisioned in previous planning efforts and recently revisited as part of the City's Plan Build Live form-based code development process.

"All feasibility studies, consultants, surveys and the experts during the Form Based Code process consistently have told us to protect those contiguous parcels for a transformative master development," the letter said.

The 8 acres were once part of a development plan called Linden Park, which was scheduled to include condominiums, retail and townhomes. In late 2008, preferred developer Al. Neyer, Inc. backed out of the project, citing poor condominium pre-sales and Midland Retail's inability to pre-lease the commercial spaces.

In 2009, the community twice rejected a proposal by Episcopal Retirement Homes to build Cary Court, a $5.5 million, 40-unit independent living facility for low-income senior citizens, on the newly-cleared Eastern Star site.

Now, the City and College Hill hope to have a preferred developer selected for a new plan by the end of 2013.

"We have worked too hard and too long to give up on the dream now," the letter said.

A report on the letter is due before City Council by Jan. 4.

First photo courtesy of Google Maps

Previous reading on BC:
Discussion of Booth expansion tabled for more neighbor input (5/27/10)
College Hill residents reject senior housing (9/30/09)
Neyer backs out of Linden Park (8/29/08)
Linden Park reception to kick off sales center opening (3/6/08)
City to sell land, provide loan for Linden Park (2/1/08)