Thursday, February 19, 2004

Preserve Hyde Park Square


A proposed six-story building on Hyde Park's historic square has again opened up Cincinnati's raw fault lines between protecting neighborhoods and accommodating developers.

The "Michigan Terrace" project doesn't need to be an all-or-nothing deal, but developers Al Neyer Inc./Lantrust Real Estate and the residents have yet to find a happy balance, and the city hasn't excelled as umpire so far. Thriving neighborhood business districts such as Hyde Park's should be protected like the rarities they are, and renewed, but with development sensitive to place. They possess a character that Fields-Ertel Road and Tri-County's big-box retail zones will never know, and that character has attracted upscale homeowners for generations. Homeowner-scarce Cincinnati compromises such character at its peril.

The Michigan Terrace plan calls for six stories for condos, retail and parking on the site of a former Shell gas station. Residents object that the proposed building at Michigan and Erie avenues is too tall compared to neighboring buildings and is alien to the look of the square. Most would welcome a four-story building, with more of a setback and the garage entrance on the side or rear. The revised plan includes a gaping two-lane parking entrance on Erie.

The developers rushed this project in under the old zoning code that permitted structures up to 85 feet tall. The new code holds heights in such districts to 50 feet. Neyer/Lantrust defend the six-story height by arguing that a building at the other end of the square is five stories and their building's top two stories would be tiered smaller. They did revise the plan but reduced promised parking from 62 spaces to 37. Hyde Park's neighborhood council voted twice against the plan, and owners of the adjoining Medical Arts Building are asking the Zoning Board of Appeals to reverse the city's approval.

Neyer/Lantrust changed the plan by replacing offices with more condos, and switched the garage entrance from Michigan to Erie for ease of access and safety. Residents say more schoolchildren and pedestrians would be at risk on Erie than on Michigan, and a Michigan Avenue parking entrance would force motorists to slow down. A six-story structure would dominate that end of the square. The city hearing examiner approved a setback to within 10 feet of the Erie Avenue sidewalk, while other structures on the block are set back from 25 to 60 feet. Hyde Parkers love the feel of openness of the square along Erie and don't want to lose it.

An $11.5 million expansion of Marjorie P. Lee retirement complex on nearby Shaw Avenue also has rattled the community.

In sensitive neighborhood business districts, the "highest and best use" for a site may not be the "tallest, biggest or quickest" moneymaker. Residents in Norwood, Price Hill, Northern Kentucky and other parts of this region have balked at development at odds with the neighborhood character. We all have a "dog" in such fights to keep projects sensitive to the scale of healthy neighborhoods.

Preserve Hyde Park Square
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