Tuesday, March 16, 2004

A marvel of 1930s planning, proud village renews itself

Greenhills: New houses, granite curbs

By Liz Oakes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Four years after this federally built historic village embarked on an ambitious project to rebuild its deteriorating housing, the community is gaining notice locally and internationally.

infographic On March 29, Greenhills Village Council will be awarded the county's 2004 Frank F. Ferris II Planning Award at Great American Ball Park. Cincinnati Tomorrow, an organization that promotes urban living for young professionals, will also receive one of the awards.

"It's significant because Greenhills has such a planning history," said Todd Kinskey of the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission, which hands out the awards.

Greenhills was built by the federal government in the 1930s in one of only three such experiments in planned greenspace in the country; the others are Greendale, Wis., and Greenbelt, Md.

But the village has been faced with deteriorating properties and declining home ownership. Four years ago, it began a project to reverse that trend.

Since 2000, Greenhills has issued $2.7 million in bonds to buy 80 deteriorating homes and apartments. The goal is to build 125 new houses over 10 years.

The village tore down three apartment buildings last year and is preparing to demolish a fourth on DeWitt Street in the project's first phase, which also includes street improvements and sewer upgrades.

"Tell me a community in Hamilton County that's gonna pass a bond levy to put in granite curbs," Kinskey said.

The idea is to preserve the village's character and encourage home ownership, said Village Manager David Moore, 63.

Tom Enderle, with the village of Greenhills maintenance department, moves kitchen cabinets out an apartment on Dewitt Street.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
"For an older community in the suburbs, this (project) is not common in this region," said Menelaos Triantafillou, an associate professor of urban planning and design at the University of Cincinnati. Triantafillou, who did the initial drawings and serves as a consultant for the DeWitt Street effort, said he knows of no place else in the area that has used all its own money to fund such major redevelopment.

But he predicts more communities will follow suit as Cincinnati's earliest suburbs start to show their age.

Moore said he's had hundreds of calls since the 4,300-resident village announced its plans last year, with visitors from as far away as Tokyo.

"When we first bought those units, I struggled to find (a developer)," Moore said. "After two years, we lucked out."

Potterhill Homes of Milford, which oversaw the Mills of Carthage, a similar development that won last year's Ferris Planning Award, plans to build 16 homes on DeWitt Street.

The homes will range in size from 1,700 to 2,500 square feet, and cost from the upper $200,000s to upper $300,000s.

Groundbreaking will be this summer, with homes ready to move in beginning this fall, said Carolyn Rolfes of Potterhill.

Greenhills expects to lose $112,000 on the initial phase, Moore said, but the "objective wasn't to make a lot of money; it's to make a little return on our investment."

It's also to reverse a trend in the village toward rentals, which currently comprise about 35 percent of homes there, and growing deterioration among some of the older buildings, Moore said.

Refurbishing and reselling homes or tearing down unsalvageable ones and building more expensive houses in their place will increase property values and tax revenue, he said.

"You can't always wait for developers to take an interest" to start redevelopment, Moore said. "Basically, it's to save the town."


E-mail loakes@enquirer.com

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