Monday, July 26, 2004

Evendale faces its future

Village may have to raise taxes to rehab Reading Road corridor

By Liz Oakes
Enquirer staff writer

EVENDALE - After decades of discussion and millions of dollars, this Hamilton County village is nearing a milestone in its effort to revive Reading Road. But the price may be higher taxes.

map The final draft of a yearlong $90,000 study on the village's future will be presented at an open house 6-9 p.m. Tuesday at the Recreation Center, 10500 Reading Road.

The 5.5-square-mile village has been brainstorming for years how to revitalize its main retail thoroughfare, which has declined since development of Interstate 75 began detouring traffic away from once-humming shopping arteries.

Evendale has company: Springfield Township has been promoting redevelopment of Winton Road, and Sharonville has been studying how to revamp Chester Road.

"The future for Evendale is this Reading Road corridor," said Linda Fitzgerald, who handles economic development for the village. "It's the life of the community."

Among Evendale's Reading Road draft report recommendations:

• Market the corridor as an "avenue of research" connecting Evendale's medical facilities and the city of Reading's recent growth in biotech.

• Consider a wetlands "banking program" to permit development in the flood plains.

• Encourage Jewish Hospital, Sports Plus and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College to expand.

• Create a storm water utility.

Evendale held a public meeting in February to gather comment on the plan. After Tuesday's open house, the report goes next month before the planning commission, and then village council.

This 2,989-population village, 14 miles northeast of Cincinnati, has one of the highest median household incomes in the county. At $127,875 as of last year, annual household income is 39 percent higher than that of Blue Ash, its most affluent neighbor, according to the revitalization study.

Evendale began the year with a $14 million surplus, but George Snyder, Evendale's chief fiscal and accounting officer, is projecting a shortfall of $2.9 million for this year's budget.

Over the past six years, the village has spent $5.75 million on 23 acres of deteriorating or vacant Reading Road properties, including three motels, an abandoned gas station, an auto detailing shop and a former lawn furniture store.

"You can't continue to spend $3 million a year and expect (the reserves) to go very far," Snyder said.

One question is, who will pay for the more than $6 million estimated cost to add four water fountains and other upgrades to the corridor.

The reports suggests, among other options, re-instating a village property tax, increasing Evendale's income tax from 0.9 percent to 1 percent, and creating an admissions tax.

Village Council will consider raising the income tax next month, and vote on a proposed 3.34-mill property tax in September.

Flooding a concern

Some residents say they wouldn't mind paying higher taxes as long as they capitalize on Evendale's neighborhood feel, not make it a large-scale shopping "destination."

Lisa Toney, who's lived in the village five years, said she would like to see specialty shops and upscale restaurants, not big chain stores brought in.

"Friday nights, we go out to dinner," said Toney, 43. "But my money is going to some other place."

A major worry for some is flooding. An 80-acre strip of vacant land the village is considering re-zoning from office research to commercial borders the Mill Creek.

The report calls the farmland critical to redeveloping the corridor as the only location for a large "family-style" center combining retail and office in the heart of the village.

The village has tried to take stock of Reading Road before.

An urban renewal study adopted in 2001 declared some parcels along the corridor "blighted," a designation some property owners resented.

"It didn't go over well," said Jack Cameron, assistant to Mayor Don Apking. "This is another attempt to get Reading Road moved along."

Residents agree that's important, as long as it's done right. "It's a nice little community, and I would like to keep it that way," Toney said.



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