Whatever improvements come to Burnet Woods, they won't involve the use of eminent domain to displace any neighbors, according to people involved in the planning process.
A proposal no longer under consideration had included the possible redevelopment of part of Bishop Street, generating concern among people who live there. A group of 22 neighbors met Dec. 3 with the intention of starting to organize opposition, which they learned late last week is unnecessary.
The Uptown Consortium is taking steps to address rumors about eminent domain and to reassure residents that they won't be displaced by changes in the park.
"Nobody said anything about using eminent domain," says Kathy Schwab, project manager for the Uptown Consortium. "It was never an issue. All that happened was planners tend to get carried way."
The consortium (visit www.uptownconsortium.org) is, in its own words, "a community development corporation dedicated to the human, social, economic and physical improvement of Uptown Cincinnati." The organization is a non-profit entity made up of Uptown's five largest employers: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, The Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, TriHealth Inc. and the University of Cincinnati.
Part of its work is a partnership with the Cincinnati Park Board to look at potential improvement for the area's parks.
"The consortium hears from their members, their students that Burnet Woods is unsafe," Schwab says. "They don't feel comfortable going there, there's nothing to do there, it's underutilized. So they put on their 'to do' list to take a look at Burnet Woods to see how they could ... make it more the heart of Uptown. We realized we shouldn't just focus on Burnet Woods, that there are a lot of parks in Uptown that are contiguous to development and look and see how we can use the parks to reinforce the business districts, to make them more usable. They did a huge (request for proposals) that not only included parks planning but also land use planning."
Working with the park board was the consortium's initiative, according to Steve Shuckman, the board's superintendent.
"They came to us with the idea," he says. "They are funding the plan. They clearly thought it was in the interest of Uptown to look at enhancement of the parks in Uptown and also look at development opportunities around the parks, all aimed at, 'How do we make Uptown a better place, more livable?' "
At three public meetings, residents gave input about the parks and nearby areas of Avondale, Clifton, Corryville, Clifton Heights-Fairview and Mount Auburn.
Dawn Fosnaugh, a Bishop Street homeowner, saw a proposal that eliminated her house.
"On one plan there was a big building where my house used to be," she says. "We've always been concerned about the eminent domain thing only because we see Uptown going around building these giant buildings around here, taking blocks around UC and developing these townhouses, and we're just scared they're going to try to 'blight' our neighborhood — and it's not a blighted neighborhood.
"This is the safe part of campus. I wouldn't live here and be raising a 5-year-old here if I felt nervous."
The Bishop Street proposal was one of the first three proposed by developers for discussion. Two of the plans show large sections of Bishop Street marked for "potential redevelopment" or consumed by an expanded park.
"Sure, they could tear us down and make mega-bucks on that strip," Fosnaugh says of the western side of Bishop Street.
The view of and easy access to the park are the reasons she bought her house, she says.
But the neighbors' concern comes from a misunderstanding, Schwab says. Describing the different proposals as options for consideration, Schwab says the point was to hear what everyone had to say and build a plan from consensus. The potential redevelopment of Bishop Street was nothing more than a "what if" exercise that flopped.
"It came to a public meeting, and everybody said no," Schwab says. "I took the plan and ... ran it by somebody at Tri-Health and somebody at UC and they said, 'We're not taking park land, we're not taking buildings. Get that off the plan!'
"The consortium is not going to do anything that upsets the community. They want to make Burnet Woods a social place, and they're willing to put some money to it. I think the big thing that's going to come out of it is dealing with the wetlands, preservation of that, cutting down the honeysuckle ... and a strong focus on intersections."
Proposals that are moving forward include re-routing several roads:
· Realigning the Clifton Avenue entrance to Burnet Woods with the newly updated Dixmyth Avenue intersection next to Good Samaritan Hospital,
· Converting the Brookline Avenue entrance off Ludlow Avenue to pedestrian-only and
· Closing the park entrance off Martin Luther King Drive just east of the Clifton Avenue intersection.
More controversial is the possibility of a restaurant or café in the park itself. The competition between added revenue and increased activity in the park going up against the loss of green space is strong, with many supporters on both sides.
But if the eminent domain question is an example of how these controversies will be handed in the future, the partnership between the consortium and residents seems to be in good working order. Chris Manning, the principal architect at Human Nature and one of the consultants hired by the consortium to manage this process, says he has good news for Fosnaugh and her neighbors: Their preliminary organizing proved effective.
"We are in the process of drafting a letter to the residents of Bishop," Manning says. "They affected the plan. What we were exploring in that area, we've decided to eliminate based on their input. We take community input very seriously and let that drive the process."
To provide comments or suggestions on the future of Burnet Woods, write [email protected] or call 513-487-3331.