Ohio City Near West board offers support for Riverview HOPE VI proposal
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, November 2005) At the September 28th Board of Trustees meeting, the Ohio City Near West Development Corporation (OCNW) board debated a resolution offering support to Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and Telesis Corporation’s revised proposal for the Riverview Hope VI Project. After much discussion the board passed a resolution in support of the proposal with some recommendations.

 The mood of the audience in the boardroom was not a happy one. They could only watch the proceedings, input from the audience was not allowed at the meeting. Many of those observing the meeting were from the Duck Island neighborhood adjoining the area where CMHA and its development partner Telesis Corporation were now proposing to build 242 of the 384 housing units now called for in the mixed-income Riverview HOPE VI development. Some residents watching the OCNW board proceedings circulated into the hallway to share their feelings that the proposal was being pushed on the community at the last minute almost ten years after it was initially funded.


Recent History

 Telesis Corporation claims the original site behind the Riverview apartment building had to be abandoned because a recent engineering study said the site was too unstable to build on. Facing a September 30th deadline to present a new proposal to the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the CMHA and their co-developer Telesis Corporation went to OCNW this past summer for site recommendations. Four sites were recommended, the largest of which was the Hicks school site, now being used for West Side Market Parking. At a several community meetings in August, and in comments on the OCNW website, the Hicks site was roundly criticized by West Side Market Merchants, residents of the neighborhood concerned about the impact of the project’s density, and residents of apartment buildings on W. 25 concerned about their view being obstructed.

 The Hick’s site was then dropped in favor of a site on Regional Transit Authority property on Columbus Road. At a September 20th community meeting, residents of the Duck Island neighborhood (just west of the Abbey Road Bridge) voiced their objections to the new site.

 Ohio City Board members said at the meeting that they heard the objections of the Duck Island residents and would recommend that size of proposed apartment building on Columbus Road be scaled down and additional sites be found for some of the units. Several board members stated that they believed from what was said at the September meeting was that residents of the Columbus Road area would accept a scaled down development. OCNW director Joe Mazolla said, “The development team heard the community on that site.”

 However, some Duck Island residents observing the meeting said that a scaled down project would not satify their objections. “They are trying to shove this down our throats and we don’t want it,” said one Duck Island resident. She noted no studies had been done on the impact of increased traffic and parking on the small neighborhood. A resident suggested that the developers consider building scattered site houses to satisfy HOPE VI requirements that a minimum of 81 affordable housing units be built.

 One of the objections of the dissatisfied observers of the meeting was that the rushing of the proposal was limiting the community’s opportunity to discuss alternatives such as a proposal for scattered site housing offered by Ohio City Near West Board Members Helen Smith and Fran Palucki.

 Ohio City resident Linda Detrick, who attended public meetings on the CMHA-Telesis proposal, expressed disappointment that Smith and Palucki’s scattered site proposal was not discussed at the three public meetings held on site selection. She believes the reason is “Telesis stands to make more money with density.”

 Others said the developer unnecessarily proceeded with an engineering study when already completed engineering studies on the Riverview site existed. Indeed, when an earlier Riverview proposal was put before the community in early 2000 a former city community development official familiar with earlier engineering studies said that even if the hillside was stabilized for $14.9 million (the estimate at the time) it didn’t necessarily mean you could build on it. (At the time it was hoped that the Ohio Department of Transportation would pay for the stabilization of the hill as part of a proposed flats interstate access project.) Now, those familiar with the earlier engineering studies wondered why CMHA and Telesis waited all this time to reconfirm what already was known at the time the project started.


OCNW recommendations

 The majority of the OCNW board passed a resolution at the 9/28 board meeting offering its support to the CMHA/Telesis Riverview HOPE VI proposal. They recommended that the proposal meet a number of criterion including an 80% market rate and 20% public housing mix. They recommended the number of public housing units not exceed the required minimum of 81 units and that the majority of the for-sale units be designed and priced for middle-income families and individuals.

 The board recommended that the now- vacant land behind Riverview be developed as recreational space and that a link to the Ohio Canal Corridor trail be explored. The OCNW board recommended that the eight remaining CMHA 6- bedroom family units on the 1500 block of W. 25th Street be demolished and the families relocated. They also recommended that the income mix of the units proposed for W. 41st and Lorain Avenue reflect the 80/20 mix of the entire project.

 The OCNW board also included several safety initiatives in its recommendations. The board called for the creation of an Ohio City Safety Special Improvement District to promote and fund safety projects in a defined area. They called for the creation of a task force to be created by the end of this year to address safety issues in CMHA properties in Ohio City.

 In the resolution the board noted its dissatisfaction with being “faced with making such a significant decision in such a short period of time.” The board urged CMHA “to work in a far more open, collaborative and appropriately scheduled process when proposing major projects that impact a community in such varied ways.”

 The board addressed the Columbus Road site in Duck Island with the following statement: “Further, in recognition of the fact that those neighbors nearest the newest proposed site at Columbus and West 25th were not engaged in the August OCNW-sponsored community input sessions, it is recommended that, in order to address density concerns of area residents, that CMHA and Telesis reduce the proposed number of units at that site. That reduction shall be commensurate with the 80/20 rate. CMHA and Telesis are urged to continue to seek additional sites.”

 The final lines of the OCNW proposal ask that CMHA agree “to complete and ongoing transparent communications with OCNW about any and all of its project decisions, research, negotiations and considerations. Any changes in currently proposed site locations for this project will trigger community input opportunities.”

 The majority of the OCNW board supported the resolution. Several members said the density of the proposed project would help the neighborhood. The resolution was passed and sent to CMHA. As of this printing, CMHA has sent the proposal to HUD with a request for an extension of the December 2006 deadline for having the project underway.

 A minority of the OCNW board opposed the resolution supporting the CMHA/Telesis proposal, and some members of the board said they could not vote on the resolution on grounds that they did not have enough information.

 Board member Dave Dennis asked if anyone had seen the original HUD guidelines for the Request for Proposals for the HOPE VI project. No OCNW board members or staff said they were privy to the request for proposal guidelines. Dennis also expressed concern as to where financing would come from for the non-public housing units. Mike Fiala, of the OCNW Housing Committee, said that the committee’s vote on the proposal (4-2 with three abstentions) reflected a lack of information about the criterion for the proposal. He said the ongoing concern of the housing committee is, “What are you saying yes too?” He noted that the OCNW board didn’t have the documentation they now needed to vote on the resolution – a copy of CMHA’ s final proposal.


Alternative resolution

 Board members Helen Smith and Fran Palucki submitted an alternative resolution to the OCNW board. The Smith and Palucki resolution noted that the original plans of CMHA for the Riverview HOPE VI project had fallen through, resulting in a scramble for available sites. It noted the new plans of CMHA and Telesis “are drawing criticism from neighborhood residents and businesses who are concerned about density, lack of integration of subsidized and market units, deadline pressure, and planning by land availability instead of what is best for the neighborhood.”

 Smith and Palucki noted the large availability of vacant houses and vacant land throughout the West Side of Cuyahoga County. (400 vacant housing units in Ward 14 alone.) Not being privy to the regulations governing the project, they said if all of area west of the river in Cuyahoga County is not eligible then they would recommended the area west to W. 85th and south to Brookpark Road be considered. Their resolution asked OCNW to “recommend to CMHA that the grant funds for the subsidized units be spent on scattered site acquisition and rehabilitation.”

 The Smith and Palucki resolution called for CMHA to “contract with local entities who will provide acquisition, rehabilitation, construction and management services for the 81 subsidized units.” The proposal also called for the use of green building methods and that Community Development Corporations in west side neighborhoods assist with the site selection.

 Not having seen the criterion for the HUD HOPE VI grant, neither Smith and Palucki, nor the OCNW board knew if the alternative proposal would fit the criteria to obtain the HOPE VI dollars. After the board had already passed the resolution of support for the CMHA/Telesis proposal, Smith and Palucki were allowed to make their resolution. Smith and Palucki offered their proposal as a less expensive alternative if HUD rejects the CMHA/Telesis proposal.

 

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