By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LOVELAND - A group that successfully sued the city to put a zoning referendum on the March ballot has canceled this week's pre-election debate, after city officials refused to participate.
David Miller, a leader in Voice of the Electorate (VOTE), also accused the Loveland Area Chamber of Commerce - which has publicly supported commercial zoning at the historic White Pillars site - of undermining VOTE's debate by planning its own.
City and chamber officials said they had concerns that VOTE's event would be one-sided. Miller said he was not surprised that city officials rejected the group's debate.
"This is not unexpected, I guess, for people who have spent so much of the community's resources in money and energy in their failed and illegal attempt to keep this issue off the ballot," Miller said.
VOTE sued Loveland officials in 2002 after the city refused to accept referendum petitions meant to overturn a zoning amendment that allowed properties of 5 acres or more to be rezoned to commercial even if they were next to residential neighborhoods.
The change, defended by Loveland officials as part of the Master Plan, paved the way for Hines-Griffin to buy the $3.4 million White Pillars site from the city and to develop it for residential and commercial use. After an appeals court sided with VOTE, and three council members were ousted, the city agreed to put the referendum on the ballot.
VOTE's debate was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Loveland Intermediate School media center. VOTE has changed the format to a community discussion, which is open to the public.
"In my opinion, they undermined their own efforts by not seeking the requirements from both sides for what each side would consider a fair and truthful debate," said Paulette Leeper, chamber executive director.
"They didn't do the footwork beforehand that is necessary to get two sides who are heatedly on opposing viewpoints to come together to agree to talk about it."
City manager Fred Enderle rejected VOTE's invitation, saying he wouldn't allow city staff to participate. He recommended that council stay out of it unless VOTE changed the rules.
Enderle questioned the group's control of the debate, its invitation to participants from outside Loveland and VOTE's use of the term "spot zoning" in promoting the forum.
Leeper said city officials have agreed to participate in the chamber's Feb. 18 debate, as have Paul Elliott and Todd Osborne, two new councilmen who were active in VOTE.
She stressed that the chamber's staff and board members will not actively participate in the debate because of the organization's support of White Pillars development.
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