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Council approves zoning change for Children's Hospital expansion

Several dozen houses in Avondale -- abandoned or occupied -- near Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center bear this uniform sign. This house is 338 Hearne Ave. (Source: The Enquirer/Mark Curnutte) Several dozen houses in Avondale -- abandoned or occupied -- near Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center bear this uniform sign. This house is 338 Hearne Ave. (Source: The Enquirer/Mark Curnutte)

City Council voted 6-3 Wednesday to approve required zoning changes that allow Children's Hospital's 10-story expansion in Avondale to go forward.

Voting yes were Vice Mayor David Mann and Council members Kevin Flynn, Amy Murray, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman and Chris Seelbach, according to our partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer

No votes were cast by members Wendell Young, Yvette Simpson and Charlie Winburn.

About 25 minutes of testimony from neighborhood residents and Children's President and CEO Michael Fisher took place before Council member comments and the vote.

Original story: Walk the streets of Avondale near Children's Hospital and, last-minute political complications or not, irreversible changes are well under way.

There's no turning back on the hospital's 10-story, $550 million expansion.

Dozens of houses sit empty on the streets just north of Children's, interspersed with empty lots where buildings have already been torn down.

Two houses on the north side of Erkenbrecher Avenue are construction offices, and a third former residence a block away on Hearne Avenue is the office of a local firm hired by Children's as its on-site property manager.

Daytime on-street parking, the result of too few garage spaces for Children's 15,000 employees, chokes Hearne, Wilson and parts of Northern avenues.

City Council will vote Wednesday morning on zoning changes necessary for Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center to build its 150-bed, 600,000-square-foot addition. Plans call for the expansion to spill across Erkenbrecher into Avondale and transform a four-acre swath of historic homes into a high-tech pediatric care center.

Council was scheduled to vote last week on zoning changes but could not because council members Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young and Charlie Winburn were absent.

Six council members have said they are willing to approve the zoning alteration: David Mann, P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach, Christopher Smitherman, Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray. Mayor John Cranley also supports the expansion plan.

On Monday, Simpson and Young proposed an amendment to the zoning change to compel Children's to contribute more money to the residential neighborhood to salvage housing and support economic development. City Council also will consider that amendment Wednesday.

Late Tuesday, Children's President and CEO Michael Fisher sent an eight-page letter to Cranley and Council members opposing the Simpson/Young motion. It "was not raised in any previous session, came as a complete surprise, is highly disappointing, and is not acceptable," he wrote.

Fisher also detailed the hospital's efforts to include the community in expansion planning for the past three years, and noted that no city money has been requested for the massive project.

Away from political maneuvering, the inevitability of the expansion could be felt in the neighborhood adjacent to the hospital Tuesday.

Michael Stewart, 65, moved to his home on Northern Avenue 61 years ago, wife Cheryl Stewart said. He and his family had been displaced from their home on Mound Street in the West End by Interstate 75 construction. Now, he is in the path of progress again.

The Hamilton County auditor's website lists the total market value of the home at $75,000. Cheryl Stewart said an African-American real estate agent has offered them $125,000.

"We know eventually it's all going to go," she said while sitting on her front porch.

Her son and two grandsons live on the first floor of the house, which has 3,300 square feet of living space.

"I am concerned about the dust and air quality once all of this starts," Stewart said. "Things have changed dramatically. I'm at the point where they can have it. My husband has a figure in his head. If they give it to him, he's gone."

Next door, four generations of John Davis' family live. Davis, 84, just renovated the home's inside and has no plans to sell, said his grandson, Archie Dale Davis, 33. He said he is a community organizer and washes cars.

"It's all I know, for all of my 33 years," Archie Davis said while walking his dog, Pepper, a Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix.

"It is OK now. A few years ago they pushed the drug boys down here from Burnet (Avenue). Now they're back up there. It's been hard, a little. We've had Children's and Cincinnati Zoo people coming at us for two years."

This report was published by Mark Curnette and Anne Saker, Cincinnati Enquirer.

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