By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LOVELAND - A second attempt to hold a pre-election debate on a controversial zoning referendum is up in the air.
Officials with Voice of the Electorate, a citizen group opposed to expanding commercial zoning in residential areas, said they won't agree to participate until they are satisfied with the ground rules.
"If I'm going to show up to the wedding, I'd like to know who I'm going to marry first," said Councilman Paul Elliott, who is active in the citizen group.
Loveland Area Chamber of Commerce officials said they're still trying to satisfy the organization's concerns. But they are not sure they will come to an agreement before the Feb. 18 event. It is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. at the Loveland Intermediate School cafeteria on Lebanon Road.
Chamber trustee Georgia Porter said the format for the debate was sent Jan. 21 to Elliott, who had expressed interest in being a panelist.
In response, David Miller of the citizen group sent the chamber a list of 25 questions and 14 protocols, including where the organization's panelists would sit.
Elliott said he is concerned about the selection of a moderator and methods employed to determine what questions are asked. Chamber Executive Director Paulette Leeper is still working to find a moderator, and said the citizen group has not offered any candidates.
"We've been dealing with them back and forth. I don't know what else to do for them," said Porter, who is chairwoman of the committee organizing the debate.
"They have bombarded me with e-mails and questions that take an exorbitant amount of time to answer."
Councilman Joe Schickel and Assistant City Manager Tom Carroll have agreed to be panelists in favor of the zone change.
"We'll take any questions. I don't care if VOTE gets to pick all the questions. We'll debate it," Carroll said.
Voice of the Electorate was forced to cancel a similar debate last month after city officials refused to participate, claiming the group's characterization of the issue as "spot zoning" showed bias.
At the time, Miller criticized the chamber's sponsorship of a second debate because the business association had publicly supported Loveland's decision to expand commercial zoning and had accepted money from the city to sponsor a chamber golf outing. Leeper said chamber officials will not be involved in running the debate in an effort to keep it fair. She said the money received from Loveland makes up 4 percent of the chamber's annual $85,000 budget.
The zoning issue will appear on the March 2 ballot. A lawsuit that VOTE filed in 2002 forced the referendum after the city changed zoning to allow properties of five acres or more to be rezoned to commercial even if they are 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 property from the city and to develop the Ohio 48 site for residential and commercial use.
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