Parking Plan Remains in Limbo

Case moved back to common pleas court, hearing set for March 15

Rendition of proposed downtown grocery store and luxury apartment tower.
Rendition of proposed downtown grocery store and luxury apartment tower.

The plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains up in the air today after court rulings kept a court-mandated restraining order in place until at least March 15, when a hearing is scheduled at the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

The hearing on March 15 will establish whether the lawsuit should move forward and whether the restraining order will remain until the lawsuit is resolved. The latter poses a budgetary challenge to the city; if the restraining order is kept in place and opponents gather the signatures required for a November referendum on the parking plan, the city says it will have to make cuts before July to balance the budget for fiscal year 2014, which could result in layoffs.

“We’ve been very clear that, by state law, we need to have a balanced budget starting July 1, so we will need to do all things necessary at that point,” says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.

The lawsuit was originally moved to federal courts on March 7 because it included complaints regarding civil rights. Plaintiffs removed the mention of civil rights, which then prompted Judge Michael Barrett to send the lawsuit back to the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6, but the plan was almost immediately held up by a temporary restraining order from Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler. The restraining order is meant to provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.

“If there was even five seconds without a temporary restraining order in place, the city’s going to sign that lease,” Chris Finney, another attorney that represents COAST, said in a public statement after the hearing with Barrett. “At that point, the city will argue that the case has moved and that the (referendum) petitions are void.”

The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws but takes away the possibility of a referendum.

In

an interview on March 7

, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who voted for the parking plan, told CityBeat the dispute over emergency clauses is politically motivated: “I think it’s nothing but a political controversy that’s generated for political gain and for political purposes. Council passes many of its ordinances with emergency clauses. In fact, the other candidate for mayor himself consistently voted for emergency clauses.”

The other mayoral candidate Qualls is referring to is John Cranley, a former council member who opposes the parking plan and says he will support a referendum effort.

“Just because the emergency clause may be used too often doesn’t make it right,” says Cranley. “I never voted for an emergency clause when there was a stated grassroots effort to have a referendum on a vote that I was facing.”

CityBeat previously covered the parking plan in further detail here.

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