The Cincinnati Planning Commission has approved requests from FC Cincinnati related to the construction of its $250 million soccer stadium in the West End. But some commissioners had tough words for the team about the relocation of residents in nearby properties the team purchased earlier this year.The commission gave the green light to the team's request that the city sell and rezone city-owned rights-of-way at Nome Alley and West 15th Street the team needs for an entrance and exit at a planned parking garage, as well as another request seeking to build a 59-space surface lot at 1251 Central Parkway that is part of the team's deal with the City of Cincinnati to acquire land currently occupied by parking for Cincinnati Police District 1 headquarters.
The team lopped off another request, for the sale and rezoning of a portion of Central Avenue north of the stadium site, but says it will revisit it later.
A number of community organizers, social service workers and residents of 421 Wade St. and 1559 Central Ave. packed the meeting to voice opposition to the zoning changes and sale of city land due to the ongoing fight over the team's request that residents leave those buildings.
Originally, former owner Fred Berger sent more than a dozen residents of the buildings a letter in February stating they would need to move out of their apartments by April 30. Residents say they have struggled to find other housing, however. Many are on Section 8, and some social service workers say it can take as long as a year to find another landlord that takes the federal housing vouchers administered by the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority.
Crystal Lane, who currently lives at 1559 Central, says moving out of the West End would "take me and my children out of everything we know." Lane, who has four children, says one of the few options she has found was in Mt. Healthy and "was not suitable for anyone."
Kim Dillard, whose 99-year-old great aunt Mary Frances Page is also being relocated, attended the meeting, as did 421 Wade resident Will Frazier.
All three said they supported a plan that would move 421 Wade residents to 1559 Central and eventually transfer ownership of that building from the team to Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses. Cincinnati City Council passed a motion supporting that plan, a move team president and general manager Jeff Berding called "a threat," citing the implication that council might not approve the team's required zoning changes.
The team says it has made a number of efforts to help residents find housing, including offering help with moving expenses and meeting with them collectively late last month. The team released a timeline of those efforts yesterday. But residents and their advocates with the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition say that meeting was brief and tense and did not result in any substantive progress.
After that meeting, the team issued a letter promising no residents would be asked to leave the properties before May 31. The team has indicated it may extend that deadline.
Others today also disputed that the team has been proactive and forthright about meetings.
Jonathan Crum, who does housing coordination for the Council on Aging, has been working with elderly residents at the property. He told the commission that assertions that the team has been making regular efforts to meet with them isn't the whole story.
"I haven't gotten a call, and I'm directly involved," he said. "I am the point person. For him to say that is false."
Originally, the commission was slated to vote on the team's final development plan. The team also originally put forward a larger amendment to its zoning change request that included 421 Wade Street. It has since withdrawn that request.
The team argued today that its request involves only minor city-owned rights-of-way. FC Cincinnati zoning attorney Tim Burke said that the team will have to come back before the commission at some point to get approval to include that property as well as the section of Central Avenue it withdrew today.FC has gotten the message about residents, Burke said.
"There is plenty of time before Wade Street property comes back to you," he said. "With regard to this issue (relocating residents), I don't know there is a time frame. Our time frame is to build a soccer stadium."
Planning Commission Chair Dan Driehaus said the commission is taking concerns about the residents seriously. Before the commission voted today, he questioned the process by which the team had arrived at this point.
"I can't believe that the Lindner family, the Farmer family, my family and Mr. Stallworth’s family are being put in this position," he said. "We did not want this pressure... I wish Mr. Berding wouldn’t put us in this position. Asking for trust is hard."
"We do want time," he continued. "I think all of us care about Ms. Lane and what it will take to move her kids. We don't have to be in this position. Boy — this was not necessary. Why not hold back until the situation with tenants is resolved?"
Commission member Byron Stallworth echoed those points, questioning whether the team was making a good-faith effort with residents and said he wasn't sure they were being given enough time.
"Now, trust has been broken and we have to have something in writing to safeguard what folks that are living in the Section 8," he said. "There is enough evidence that has been presented today that folks in Section 8 properties need more than 70 days."
Cincinnati City Council will need to approve the items planning commission voted on as well as any future amendments to the team's development plan.
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