CINCINNATI – The city of Cincinnati has decided not to give the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. a private audience with the city’s Historic Conservation Board on Monday.
The Historic Conservation Board agenda for its Sept. 9 meeting originally included this item: “Private session request with the HCB by 3CDC.”
A 3CDC spokeswoman told WCPO that the session was planned to discuss a more effective process for the organization to work with the board on its next big project.
3CDC is the influential nonprofit development organization that the city has tasked with the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine. The Historic Conservation Board, or HCB, is charged with protecting the city’s historic buildings.
Over-the-Rhine Community Council President Peter Hames and attorney Tim Mara, a lawyer who lives in Over-the-Rhine and has clashed with 3CDC in the past, objected to city officials immediately.
WCPO also raised questions about whether such a private session would violate Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, which give Ohioans access to government meetings and records.
Sean Suder, the city’s chief counsel for land use and planning, said such sessions are legally permissible as long as they are “gatherings of an investigative or information-gathering nature” where no decisions are made. Suder cited an Ohio First District Court of Appeals ruling as case law that bolsters the city’s opinion.
Even so, Suder said the city would remove the private session item from Monday’s agenda because officials “got a lot of calls from community folks and Mr. Mara who sort of disagreed with that.”
Suder added, “We err on the side of transparency.”
3CDC: We Don't Need The Privacy
That’s all fine with 3CDC, said Anastasia Mileham, 3CDC’s vice president of communications. She said city staff suggested a session as a way for 3CDC and members of the HCB to figure out the best way to handle big, complex projects in Over-the-Rhine that 3CDC has in the works.
Members of the HCB had suggested that 3CDC start working with the board earlier after a contentious approval process for the developer’s three-acre, $63 million Mercer Commons project.
Mileham said 3CDC soon will be planning major developments at 15th and Vine streets and 15th and Race streets, which will involve new construction and the renovation of historic buildings.
The private session was to discuss whether an HCB subcommittee should be formed to review early plans once they’re crafted, she said.
“That was an effort to create the process,” she said, adding that there was no nefarious motivation behind any of it. “Whether those meetings are public or not doesn’t matter. I don’t think anybody requested the privacy.”
Mara, who on Friday was preparing a lawsuit to seek an injunction to stop the private session, said he was pleased the item was removed from the agenda.
Mara is concerned the issue will resurface, though, he said.
“I think the public has a right to know what these people planned to do to avoid public scrutiny until they got caught,” he wrote in an email. “The public needs to keep their eyes and ears open. This isn’t over yet.”
But Mileham said 3CDC is working to improve the way the organization communicates with the city and the public.
“We are constantly seeking new and better ways to be transparent about our projects, especially as they get bigger,” she said. “We’ll still figure out a way to work with the HCB and create a process to make this more transparent.”