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Council Delays Vote On OTR Development Amid Push For Affordable Housing

A day prior, some residents had protested the project due to a variety of factors, including a lack of affordable housing.
Courtesy KEAN Development & Cincinnati City Planning Office
KEAN Development & Cincinnati City Planning Office
A day prior, some residents had protested the project due to a variety of factors, including a lack of affordable housing.

Updated: Friday 10:30 a.m.

A major mixed-use development project at Liberty and Elm in Over-the-Rhine has been delayed for two weeks while City Council reviews the details and tries to work affordable housing into the project.

In a contentious council meeting Thursday, Mayor John Cranley and others pushed for development approval. But council voted 7-2 to refer the proposal back to the Economic Growth and Zoning Committee, after several members objected to the project's lack of affordable housing. 

OTR Community Council President Maurice Wagoner was one such critic who spoke to council Thursday. He says the city isn’t getting enough in return for the 30-year tax abatement attached to the project.

"They're building 290 luxury apartments; zero affordable units, which means not even I nor my longterm neighbors, can afford to live there," he said. 

In an emailed statement, KEAN Development president Stephen Dronen said he's disappointed with the outcome. 

"As we’ve shared publicly and with our partners in the City Administration, this deal is complex, and given the state of our fragile economy, timing is everything," Dronen said. "That said, we believe in the transformative nature of this project, and will continue to engage on potential improvements over the next two weeks to ensure it’s the best it can be." 

What The Current Plan Looks Like

The current proposal amends a plan that was already approved, lowering the height of the building and altering the design. 

Attorney Thomas Tepe represents the developers. He said in the initial committee meeting Wednesday that although the project had already been approved, this amendment makes it better.

"It removes the surface parking lot that people had objected to," Tepe said Wednesday. "It lowers the building by 13 feet. It sets back the upper floor of another building by 20 feet, which [are] things that were heard during the process."

Some residents and community leaders are concerned about the lack of affordable housing units in the plan. The developers say they can't afford to include any, but promise to apply for state tax credits to add 20 affordably priced apartments, or about 5% of all units.

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman asked the City Planning Office Wednesday to add language to the agreement to hold the developers accountable for that promise.

"I don't think you get across the finish line in this project at zero," Smitherman said.

Thursday's decision to refer it back to committee puts it on the agenda for Feb. 2. 

You can see more details on the proposed plan below. Liberty & Elm by WVXU News on Scribd

This story was first published Jan. 20 and has been updated.

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