As Key Stadium Vote Approaches, No Resolution in Controversy Over West End Residents Facing Relocation

Residents of buildings purchased by FC Cincinnati say Cincinnati City Council should pause sale of city land and a key zoning request until they find new housing. The team says that could halt construction of its coming stadium, however.

click to enlarge 1559 Central Ave. resident Crystal Lane, right, and her son Amier speak at an event in the West End protesting relocation of residents by FC Cincinnati - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
1559 Central Ave. resident Crystal Lane, right, and her son Amier speak at an event in the West End protesting relocation of residents by FC Cincinnati

Cincinnati City Council tomorrow will consider whether to give a key set of approvals for the coming FC Cincinnati stadium in the West End. But a big hurdle stands in the way of the conveyance and rezoning of a small sliver of city land the team says it will need to continue construction — the plight of several residents in two buildings the team purchased. 

The team says the residents must move eventually, but several residents say they're not giving in just yet. That has led to talk of eviction proceedings, which could cause several of the residents to lose their Section 8 vouchers.

The building's former owner in February delivered notice that those residents had 70 days to find new housing after FC Cincinnati bought the properties north of the stadium site at 421 Wade St. and 1559 Central Ave. in January. After stories surfaced about the relocation of the roughly dozen residents, including a 99-year-old woman named Mary Frances Page, the team eventually extended their move-out to May 31. 

That day is rapidly approaching. Earlier, FC Cincinnati said it would consider extending the move out date, but talks between the team and residents and their legal counsel have faltered. The last offer the team made: $2,500 per resident plus relocation expenses and rent-free residency until Oct. 31 if residents promised to be out of both buildings by that date.

Residents turned that deal down. Instead, they want the team to follow a suggestion by Cincinnati City Council seeking the renovation of 1559 Central so residents at 421 Wade can all live there. Under the plan introduced by council members David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld and approved by full council, the team could eventually turn 1559 Central over to Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses, a West End organization that would keep it as affordable housing.

Failing that, residents and advocates say the team should find ways to replace the affordable housing that will be lost.

But so far, talks have led to a stalemate. The last meeting, a Friday gathering between team representatives and residents organized by council member Greg Landsman, produced no new agreement.

A heated Planning Commission hearing at Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses this evening on FC Cincinnati's larger development plan devolved into shouting between several residents, advocates from outside the neighborhood, and West End stadium supporter Nick Johnson. Activists have manipulated residents, Johnson said, and aren't looking out for their best interests.

But at least three residents at the meeting said that wasn't the case.

As that drama churns, the team is seeking ownership of and a zoning change for a small portion of West 15th Street and Nome Alley that will help ingress and egress for a planned parking garage there. The Cincinnati Planning Commission earlier this month approved the changes FC Cincinnati says it needs to continue work on the stadium, but two commissioners had harsh words for the team about the situation of the residents.

The team says its request isn't related to the residents' housing issue and is crucial to keep construction of the stadium moving along on schedule as it works to have the facility ready by the 2021 Major League Soccer season.

Greg Otis of Elevar Design, a Cincinnati-based company working on stadium design, spoke in council's Zoning and Economic Growth Committee today about the team's request for the rights-of-way. He said the team will have to stop construction in a few weeks if it doesn't get the approval.

"We have about 30 days of permitted construction that can be completed," he said. "Then construction will halt. This will allow us to continue."

Council members Amy Murray and Jeff Pastor both voted to move the zoning request out of committee and to full council.

Residents and their advocates say the team doesn't need to remove them from the buildings north of the stadium site, and that council shouldn't approve the team's zoning requests until a deal is reached. 

"FCC has plans for the area from Wade to Liberty (Street)," John Schrider of the Greater Cincinnati Legal Aid Society said today in the council committee hearing. "Those plans are for a mixed-use development. A developer has not been selected. Apparently, the plans are not all that specific, but FCC is adamant that no matter what happens there will not be affordable housing in that area. In addition, the team is saying they need to demolish both 421 Wade and 1559 Central in the next few months. There is no reason for that." 

The team hasn't publicly discussed its plans for the land north of the stadium, but it has purchased a significant amount of property in the area.

Advocates for residents also point out that the process for moving with a Section 8 voucher is long and complicated. In addition to difficulties in finding suitable locations caused by a dearth of Section 8 landlords, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority must inspect and approve any apartment before a resident can move in.

At an event yesterday outside 421 Wade Street, residents said they were holding on as long as they could, but that they feared eviction. 

"May 31 is still on the line," said Crystal Lane, who lives with her children at 1559 Central. "We have to be out of our places by May 31. They were not willing to sign saying that is off the table."

Ken Rhodes also lives at 1559 Central. He has mobility issues and says stress around the pending relocation has stirred up health issues that recently sent him briefly to the hospital. 

"It's like they're putting a gun to our heads,"  Rhodes said. "You accept this or we're just going to step on you, throw you out. It's got me spooked, I'm not going to lie. But I'm going to stand up to them. I'm not going anywhere." 

Sources say FC Cincinnati representatives will present residents with a compromise proposal today. 

It is unclear what will happen next. The team could opt to evict the residents — a three-day process that involves court proceedings and potentially the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. The team could also opt to extend the residents' deadline again as talks continue. 

Cincinnati City Council could vote to approve or deny the team's zoning request, or ask that it be delayed until residents find new housing. Several council members have expressed skepticism about holding up construction of the stadium over the issue, though others say they won't vote for the zoning approval until residents are housed. 

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