Sunday, February 15, 2004

Change and Hyde Park - will proposals kill charm?

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Neighbors in Hyde Park have erected signs protesting the proposed expansion of the Marjorie P. Lee Retirement Community on Shaw Avenue. The expansion would add a third floor and cause an adjacent home to be razed for parking.

HYDE PARK - Joggers trot along the tree-lined streets of this turn-of-the-century neighborhood amid an assortment of large Victorian houses and grand brick mansions.

People drop into Hap's Irish Pub for a nip of whiskey, or grab an ice cream cone at Graeter's and enjoy it on refurbished Hyde Park Square.

Demand to be here is high. Perhaps a little too high.

Growing pains in and around Hyde Park are accelerating as development pushes in, threatening the historic community's character, say longtime residents and neighborhood leaders.

"The city and its misguided overall propensity to approve any development is causing harm by allowing inappropriate development," said Carl Uebelacker, who has lived in Hyde Park more than 30 years.

"When it's all said and done and all these developments are completed, you don't have anything left. You've lost the character."

Struggles over growth are visible in two ways:

•  "Save Our Neighborhood" signs along Shaw Avenue protest a proposed $11.5 million expansion at the Marjorie P. Lee Retirement Community.

• On Hyde Park Square, a fight brews over a proposed building mixing parking, retail and condominiums. At six stories high, the building would be the largest on the historic square.

In recent years, development issues, according to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Council, have emerged as the biggest problem facing this upscale Cincinnati neighborhood of 13,901 residents, where the average home sale price is about $325,000.

As owner of the Echo Restaurant off Edwards Road, Stephanie Surgeon hears about development issues from her customers.

Population: 13,901
Average home sale price: $325,000
Homeowners: 53.2 percent
The number of senior citizens in Hyde Park's has dipped:
1990: 3,341 residents were 65 or older.
2000: 2,611 residents were 65 and older.
Source:, U.S. Census and Star One Realty
"The people moving into the area are younger and have a lot of disposable income. Old money in Hyde Park 20 years ago wouldn't have been caught dead at Kmart but now they will go to Target," she said. "Business on the square isn't bad. The restaurants have done well. But the retailers, I think, have had a challenge."

Some shop owners are watching new big-box and other retail development in Oakley and Norwood.

"But I think Hyde Park can weather that," said Jane Saunders, president of the Hyde Park Square Business Association. "It's just different and there are no national chains on the square."

Most of (the businesses) are single-owned stores and galleries."

Marjorie P. Lee expansion

Longtime resident Tom Possert isn't convinced about the progress a block from the square on Shaw Avenue.

He has sued the city of Cincinnati to try to halt an expansion of the Marjorie P. Lee Retirement Community The expansion is needed to keep up with growing demands for senior, independent living housing, say officials with Episcopal Retirement Homes, Inc., the non-profit organization that runs it and Deupree House.

The retirement center is adding a wellness center with a warm-water pool and spa, an outdoor dining terrace, a cafe and a new social activity place. It plans to raze an adjacent home Episcopal Retirement Homes has owned for years to build a 14-space off-street parking lot.

The center will reduce the number of living units from 104 to 89 by combining smaller apartments into larger spaces. About 200 senior citizens live there.

"More than half of them are Hyde Park residents," said Gini Tarr, director of community relations at Marjorie P. Lee.

But Possert and other residents worry the 2,800 square-foot expansion, which includes a new third story, will be too intrusive.

"There's just no stop," Possert said. "We are not against the old people there. I see it as a service to the area but there are trade-offs. You can't have everything at the neighborhood's expense."

Bill Langevin, director of Cincinnati's buildings and inspections department, says the expansion request is reasonable, especially to relieve parking problems along Shaw.

"They worked as hard as they could without giving up their goal, which was to expand the facility to include a center," he said.

Marjorie P. Lee residents Ginny Bohn and Janet Kreiderlook forward to the expansion, particularly the warm water pool for therapy.

"Nobody is going to leave Hyde Park unless you drag them out, so the more we improve the place, the better it will be," Bohn said.

For 16 years, Margaret Mersman has rented one of the apartments in the home adjacent to Marjorie P. Lee that will be torn down for the parking lot.

The 77-year-old woman was heartbroken on Feb. 4 to receive notice that she has to move out by March 31. A sign in her front window reads: "Protest M.P. Lee Expansion and Home Demolition."

"Who wants to look at a dumb parking lot on this street with these beautiful old homes? I feel as sorry for my neighbors as I do for myself."

Michigan Terrace

The character of Hyde Park is very much the issue in the battle over Michigan Terrace.

Last year, Cincinnati officials approved development at Erie and Michigan avenues on the site of a vacant gas station.

The 75-foot-tall building, as originally proposed by Al Neyer Inc., and Lantrust Real Estate, featured stores, offices and 11 high-end condominiums on the top floors.

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Council voted in October to support the project - if the developers agreed to cut the building from six stories to four and move the front yard setback seven to 15 feet farther off Erie Avenue.

The city approved the project, keeping the height at six stories and increasing the front yard setback by three feet from 10 to 13.

But now the developer has scrapped the offices, reduced the parking and will put the main entrance to the parking garage off Erie Avenue, the main boulevard along the square. Those changes, explains Chris Knueven, Al Neyer's director of multifamily and retail development, were done to appease neighbors concerns about parking and traffic.

"We have worked very cooperatively with the neighbors and have worked to find resolutions for each of their concerns," he said.

But many residents are disappointed and will attend a Feb. 23 meeting before Cincinnati's Board of Zoning Appeals.

"The younger generation has yet to learn that not all development is good development," Uebelacker said.

Ellen Patton agrees. A resident since 1975, she runs a mortgage loan consulting business.

"I call it the 'Me' generation," she says. "The newer, younger residents don't care about their neighbors. And the building on the square is ridiculous. It's losing its Hyde Park charm. We are getting squashed."

Growing pains

Growing pains are sharpening in Hyde Park. Here are a few upcoming projects stirring controversy:

Michigan Terrace: a new 75-foot-tall, six-story building at the site of a vacant gas station at Erie and Michigan avenues.

The development, proposed by Al Neyer Inc., and Lantrust Real Estate, would feature retail and the main entrance to an underground parking garage on the first floor and more than 11 high-end condominiums on the tiered upper floors.

A appeal hearing on the case will be 9 a.m. Feb. 23 before Cincinnati's Zoning Board of Appeals at City Hall.

The Marjorie P. Lee Retirement Community: an $11.5 million expansion project on Shaw Avenue to create larger, more comfortable apartments that will reduce the total number of units from 104 to 89. There also will be a new wellness center with a warm-water pool and spa, auditorium and a 14-space parking lot.

A neighbor has filed suit against the city to try to halt the project.

Deupree House: an expansion of the existing Erie Avenue building with a new wellness center including an indoor pool, spa and exercise rooms; 60 additional independent living apartments with a parking garage and more staff and residential parking.

Last month, a city hearing on was delayed so residents behind the center and operators could continue trying to work out a compromise.

Cincinnati Country Club: expansion of the golf course by renting a small easement along Bedford Street (still a strip of land that never was paved into a street) from the City of Cincinnati, said Michael Jackson of the city's real estate division in the law department.

The club bought a house that abuts three neighbors along Handasyde Lane and tore down the house to make room for the new 8th tee, Jackson said.


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