Backers of a controversial proposal to build a one-stop social services center in the West End have won the latest round in the ongoing legal battle over the project. Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Ralph Winkler last week ruled that the proposed City Link Center is an allowable use in an area zoned as a manufacturing district. The ruling overturns the recommendation of a magistrate, who had agreed with an earlier decision by the Cincinnati Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to deny a permit for the project. Opponents are likely to appeal.
Winkler said the magistrate's finding was improper in three areas. First, the activities that would occur at City Link are permissible in a manufacturing district because they mostly fall under uses designated in the zoning code as office, medical services and clinic and small-scale recreation. Second, City Link doesn't qualify as a community services center because the facility will offer services to residents citywide, not just in the West End. Finally, the BZA failed to follow established procedures in the city's zoning code.
"This decision was made as a result of extreme political pressure from various neighborhood, community and economic councils/groups/associations near the proposed location of City Link," Winkler wrote. "From these outside pressures, the (BZA) tried to pigeon-hole City Link into a definition that just does not fit."
City Link is a $12 million project that would create a nearly 100,000-square-foot social services mall where people could receive health care, job training, drug counseling and more at a single location. The project was proposed by a group called One City, which is a coalition of 10 prominent area churches and social service organizations, including Crossroads Community Church in Oakley and CityCURE of Mount Auburn.
Many West End and University Heights residents who live near the proposed 800 Bank St. site oppose the project, arguing it would lower property values, pose a danger to children and hamper efforts to convert the neighborhoods into a mixed-income area. Critics said One City repeatedly ignored requests for meetings with opponents, lacked ties with local government that they believe would be needed for the program's success and doesn't have the support of the neighborhood or its churches.
Letting Our Rights Slip Away
Despite a public offer of help soon after the incident, not a single student or parent from Northwest High School called the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio after a search of students by Hamilton County Sheriff's deputies. All students were searched when entering the building between 7:40 a.m. and 11 a.m. Nov. 3 for reasons Principal Robert Reynolds won't fully explain. The school was under "lockdown with instructions," meaning there was a "reasonable threat" posed to students from outside the building, he says.
"Once we checked them, we kept them for a brief time in the auditorium, then sent them to their first period classes," Reynolds says, without explaining why the threat was considered "past" by 11 a.m. "I can't share what (sheriff's deputies) shared with me because it's part of an ongoing investigation."
But the threat was actually reported by the school, according to Steve Barnett, spokesman for the sheriff's office.
"There was a bunch of text messages going among a bunch of students who had a dispute going on and alleging that somebody would be bringing a weapon to school," he says. "It's one great big mess of all these kids up there. One kid attacks another, so one retaliates and then another retaliates."
Considering that no names or specific weapons were identified in the text messages, a search of incoming students is "pretty standard procedure since Columbine," Barnett says. "You can't take a chance nowadays."
That kind of comprehensive search without clearly defined suspects and probable cause rankles the ACLU.
"There're still limits, and you don't get to search people cuz you wanna," says Jeff Gamso, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio. "A school is a place of learning, not a prison. Students don't shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door."
Even though children's rights are limited, they are still entitled to constitutional protections. Gamso said he's surprised no one called the ACLU to complain after they found out about the searches of bags and pat-downs of outer clothing by deputies.
"By and large, parents ask questions," Reynolds says. "I couldn't tell them what the sheriff's department said, either. You'd be surprised how positive the comments are. They say, 'Thank you for taking care of our kids.' We're going to do what we need to keep the kids safe."
Fear and safety are the reasons frequently cited for eroding civil rights. If a credible threat is defined as "someone might do something bad," then we'd best begin searching people who enter any post office location, mall or football game. Oh wait, the NFL already does that.
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