Hamilton may create 6-month moratorium on riverfront development

City leaders may impose a six-month moratorium on residential and commercial development along the Great Miami River while they, with the help of residents, shape a vision for what types of projects they would like to see along the waterway.

The area that would be affected, if Hamilton City Council approves the temporary ban, it will include the proposed Spooky Nook Sports at Champion Mill mega-sports complex, whose construction Hamilton officials hope will start next year.

“We haven’t gotten a formal application from them, so it does affect them,” said Liz Hayden, the city’s director of planning. “We really just did the moratorium on the area that we are truly focusing the master plan on. It had to include Spooky Nook, because that’s a huge focus of the master plan.”

There can be exceptions to the moratorium, as there have been in the past, Hayden said: “It is important to say that we did find examples of times that the city approved development (during moratoriums). If Spooky Nook wanted to submit something, I think we’d be wanting to consider that. We know that aligns with the master plan, because it’s a lynch pin of the plan for that area.”

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The River District Master Plan is being developed by W Architecture and Landscape Architecture in Brooklyn, N.Y., whose founding principal is Hamiltonian Barbara Wilks. The company is being paid $39,000 for the work, which should be finished around February.

A public meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 29 at 5:30 p.m. in City Council chambers to hear public ideas about the proposed riverfront master plan.

Council is not expected to approve the moratorium until mid-December.

The area involved is a slender strip extending from north of the proposed Spooky Nook complex on both sides of the river, as far south as about Harrier Way at the University of Miami Hamilton campus, along both shorelines.

The ongoing “Plan Hamilton” effort to create a community vision of what the city can become over the next 10-15 years will incorporate the River District Master Plan.

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Hamilton mailed notices to the 180 owners of properties within the proposed moratorium, plus another 870 properties within 500 feet of the moratorium area.

Some showed up at a Hamilton Planning Commission meeting, concerned about what the situation would mean for them and their properties. The moratorium will not affect people’s ability to improve their properties or make additions to them.

Alfred Barron was one, and he voiced concerns about what the riverfront plan might entail, particularly for the city’s impoverished Second Ward. For example, he said, “We’ve seen destruction, but not development. You’re tearing things down, but you’re not putting anything in.”

“What is needed is a viable thing, such as a functioning grocery store, where you wouldn’t have to travel a mile to get there,” Barron said.

Hayden responded: “That is exactly the kind of feedback that we’re looking for at that public-input session that’s going to be on (Nov.) 29, is what should be in that master plan for the area?”

Here’s why Hamilton is doing both a Plan Hamilton comprehensive plan and the riverfront visioning, according to Hayden: “Plan Hamilton is looking at the 30,000-foot level, and we thought we needed something more specific” for the riverfront.

The Plan Hamilton work likely won’t be finished until late spring, at the earliest, she said.

It’s an important time to create plans for how development should happen, City Manager Joshua Smith said Thursday during his State of the City speech.

“When I first started, we had a couple of plans that were sitting on the shelf,” said Smith who has led the city government about eight years. “We had a comprehensive plan that was done maybe a decade earlier, and some other plans. I really wanted to avoid the planning stage — I wanted to get things done, without spending time planning, at first.”

“I think we’re at a point now where we do need some comprehensive planning,” Smith added. Committees are now beginning to meet for the Plan Hamilton comprehensive-planning work.

The River District Master Plan will consider the area’s transportation needs for walkers, bicyclists and vehicles, with the goal of making the river the center of a “new, active Hamilton Downtown,” according to city documents. While plans are created to mold that future, the moratorium’s aim is to temporarily control growth and ensure development before the plan is finished won’t be detrimental to the plan that is created.

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