Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Longtime suburbanites fight to keep way of life

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BLUE ASH - The 3 acres at Cooper and Kenwood roads have been home to 60-year-old Dan Hosbrook and his family since his grandfather settled there in the 1860s.

Judie and Dan Hosbrook in the window of the garage the family has run since 1927 in Blue Ash.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
He grew up in a house around the corner. He raised his family there. He's always worked at the automotive repair service that his father founded in 1927.

Today, the single-story white building - dwarfed by a four-story office complex across the street and surrounded by shopping centers at one of the city's busiest intersections - is a testament to the long-gone simplicity of this now-bustling community.

To the city, it's an obstruction to its vision for downtown Blue Ash.

City officials say the land with Hosbrook's auto shop, Blue Ash Chili and other businesses is crucial, and the starting point, in a plan to revitalize downtown by 2010 to keep more people there. Such revitalization efforts have become a trend among Greater Cincinnati communities, from Mason to Newport to Harrison.

Blue Ash's answer is to create something on the order of Hyde Park Square with a mix of condominiums, specialty shops and restaurants that offer music.

"That would be an ideal site for three nice restaurants," City Manager Marvin Thompson said of the site at Cooper and Kenwood roads.

Not the right look

Twenty years after 120 buildings were razed and replaced with 65 new structures in the first wave of downtown redevelopment, city officials say some buildings now don't have the right look, and others need to be replaced because they are aging.

map They are concerned that few people spend time downtown except to shop for necessities, visit a few specialty shops, go to work, or drop in for a quick sandwich or drink at the typical lunch spots or coffee shops in strip center storefronts. Few stay around unless the city has a special event.

City officials think a more thematic approach might solve that problem. Council met last week to discuss their vision so that Thompson can develop a plan by the end of summer.

"We really want Blue Ash to be the kind of place where residents want to walk downtown, they want to do their shopping, they want to just spend time, and it becomes livable," Mayor Rick Bryan said.

The effort could include the area on Cooper Road from Monroe Avenue to Blue Ash Road, and on Kenwood Road from Catalpa Creek to Ronald Reagan Highway, Thompson said.

Older small homes would likely go, along with some outdated commercial buildings. Other structures would be updated. Owner- occupied high-density condominiums would surround the businesses to provide a customer base for the shops.

Council has asked Thompson to look to Hyde Park Square at Erie Avenue and Edwards Road in Cincinnati as an example of what they want because its mix of high-brow businesses, galleries and restaurants not only serves surrounding residents, but also draws in people from outside the community.

Clashing approaches

Hal Silverman, a Blue Ash resident who developed several properties in the city's downtown, says high-density housing around the downtown core could help the project succeed.

"It would bring in people with some discretionary income and updated housing to support the stores," he said. Silverman, who has an office in the four-story building he developed overlooking Hosbrook's auto shop, wants to see Blue Ash finish the revitalization that started in 1985, and he thinks the city is taking the right approach.

But it may face resistance.

Some property owners want to be part of the renewal, but they fear that the city will take their land away from them. Hosbrook, whose land's market value is about $2 million, said the city has "been working around" him and others, and not including them in their plans.

Thompson said he has unsuccessfully tried to work with Hosbrook to develop the site, which he said has been the target of complaints for years because it does not fit in with the business district. The city "will not hesitate" to take properties through eminent domain if the owners don't cooperate, Thompson said.

"Why can't I develop it myself?" asked Ted Christopulos, who retired and sold his Blue Ash Chili business in 1997 but still owns the single-acre property next to Hosbrook's auto shop. Christopulos opened the restaurant in 1965 after emigrating from Greece.

Hosbrook asked: "Why should I move when our family spent our lives here when nobody else wanted to be here? I think it should be my right to go when I want to go. "

The handmade sign in the window of his shop speaks of a grandfather's dream to one day turn his business over to his grandsons, who are 6 and 8.

It's unclear, or maybe even doubtful, if that could happen here at Kenwood and Cooper.

"We're still waiting on that," Hosbrook said.

Facts about Blue Ash

• History: Settled in 1791 and incorporated as a city in 1961.

• Size: 7.7 square miles.

• Population: 13,000. Daytime: 70,000. Businesses: 2,000

• Largest employer: Procter & Gamble.


E-mail smclaughlin@enquirer.com

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