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As published on August 1, 2008 on (The Cincinnati Enquirer)

Cincinnati Enquirer -

City Says Chemicals From Dry Cleaner Stalling Plaza

By Jane Prendergast

CLIFTON - A Ludlow Avenue lot remains vacant, even though residents expected the city already would have turned it into a new pedestrian plaza with seating, paving bricks and planters.

That's because there's a possible problem - part of the site used to be a dry cleaning shop, so years' worth of chemicals are in the ground.

City officials, despite an environmental consultant's OK, remain concerned about liability.

Officials suggested the community council undertake the project itself, relieving the city of blame in lawsuits.

The idea shocked Linda Goldenhar, president of Clifton Town Meeting and a University of Cincinnati professor. "It was almost disbelief," she said. "We don't have the expertise. We're a volunteer group."

Goldenhar and others went to Councilman John Cranley, who was familiar with the project because an aide lives in Clifton. He responded with a motion that city council will consider next week to require city administrators not only to build the estimated $300,000 plaza, but to finish it this fall. He's gathering supporters at the site Sunday at 2 p.m.

"When I think of places that showcase what the city has to offer, I think of Clifton Ludlow in the sense of it being eclectic and having a bohemian feel to it," he said. "I go to the Esquire Theater all the time. I go to Ambar (an Indian restaurant) all the time. And I eat at Dewey's all the time.

"We just can't have this gaping hole in the middle of the business district."

The debate comes at a time when Ludlow is the center of other progress.

A $1.8 million project to install gas lights and replace sidewalks, among other improvements, is under way. Residents have spent more than a year working on a Main Street program, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Committees have studied safety and marketing as well as how to promote more diversity in the businesses that line the Ludlow strip. The Main Street program has support from organizations including Good Samaritan Hospital and the Uptown Consortium.

Neighborhood leaders say it's all a much-needed rehabilitation to help keep Ludlow's funky feel but improve some of the tired look in a place where people can walk to the grocery store, post office and library.

A risk assessment done in March by Keramida, a Springdale environmental and engineering firm, said studies found tetrachloroethene and trichloroethene in concentrations enough to signal a cancer risk to construction workers who work below the surface.

But that's an overestimation, the report said, because the risk-calculation method assumes a worker would be in an enclosed space for a year, which would not be the case.

The proposed plaza, the report concluded, is not likely to significantly affect the migration of the contaminants. Workers should be told about the chemicals, it said, and should take precautions. There's no potential exposure for visitors to the site or landscaping workers, Keramida said, but anyone working below the surface could have incidental contact with the soil and groundwater.

City officials knew of Keramida's findings before they demolished the buildings on the property in January because Keramida had done prior studies at the site in 2005 and 2006.

The community council and neighborhood business association owned the buildings and drew rent from them until they were torn down. The basements of both buildings were filled with clean soil after the demolition.

"This isn't the only dry cleaner," Cranley said, "that's ever gone out of business and been converted into another use."

A pedestrian plaza has been suggested as long ago as a 1994 neighborhood plan, Goldenhar said. She hopes it helps people walking up from the parking lot behind the buildings along the south side of the street to feel more welcomed to the business district. Now, access is through skinny alleyways between buildings.

She also hopes Cranley will have the four more council members necessary to pass the motion, in which he refers to Ludlow Avenue as a "cultural fount that nourishes the Queen City." Neighborhood leaders also lobbied council members Roxanne Qualls, David Crowley and Jeff Berding.

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