$122M urban stream reclamation project includes potentially huge impacts

The Cincinnati Business Courier is reporting that city and municipal sewer district officials are looking at a bold project that would completely transform South Fairmount, reclaim a currently buried creek, and solve the county’s largest combined sewer overflow (CSO) problem site.

Located at the western end of the Western Hills Viaduct, South Fairmount has been in an extended state of struggle. Vacancies and low property values plague the small neighborhood, and investments to rebuild Queen City Avenue have done little to spark new investment. But now officials are looking at a $122 million plan they hope will finally reinvigorate the area.

The crux of the five plans presented to community members is to fix a long-standing CSO problem which results in 1.7 billion gallons of dirty water flowing into the Mill Creek annually. In order to solve the problem engineers and planners would remove an underground sewer pipe dating back to 1910, and replace it with separate underground storm sewers and a reclaimed natural stream above.

The majority of the plans also call for a rebuilt park and recreation area, bike and walking trails along the reclaimed stream, potential mixed-use infill, civic gathering space and even a small lake at the eastern end of the project site.

While all of this immediately sounds exciting, there is an existing neighborhood located in this location. Dozens of historic structures, a park, businesses and residents would all have to be relocated during the potentially decade-long rebuilding project. Officials have begun acquiring land in the area already, and the city owns a good deal of land in the project site. Additionally, eminent domain is already being discussed for what is identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a critical problem.

The impacts of such of project could and will be profound if it becomes reality. More than 40 acres of urban land would be completely rebuilt in what is considered to be the largest stream reclamation project, intended to solve a CSO problem, ever.

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls also sees the massive project as an opportunity to create a bus rapid transit center in South Fairmount that would connect the city’s western neighborhoods with uptown.

“For a community that’s been racked by poor transportation choices and declining homes and businesses that left, it would be a significant economic development project. This could be a really thriving community,” Qualls told the Business Courier.

  • Matt Jacob

    This was a great urban neighborhood back in the day. It still has great historic buildings and bones, but over the last century the neighborhood has been gutted and in-filled with fast food restaurants and the fast moving artery roadways that have strangled this urban neighborhood of its walk-ability. Many of its buildings have become neglected, however recently some have been getting restored thankfully.

    As far as this plan goes, it is very optimistic to say the least, but I’m glad something is finally happening in this neighborhood. I think the best parts of this plan (mainly shown on option 5) are to consolidate the high traffic onto a two-way Westwood Ave and to establish a transit center in this neighborhood. Slowing down the traffic on Queen City will allow this neighborhood to be used once more for the walkable lifestyle for which it was originally built. The plan isn’t perfect though, as it still leaves the southern half of the neighborhood disconnected, but it’s a step in the right direction. There really isn’t a good solution.

  • I’m wary of stream daylighting projects in urban areas, as it causes a de facto suburbanizing of the neighborhood. That said, Matt rightly points out that South Fairmount has been pretty well gutted by the high-traffic arterial streets and newer suburban building stock. The whole “interchange” with the Western Hills Viaduct, Beekman, State, Westwood, Harrison, and Queen City is an unmitigated disaster. The oneway pairs of Queen City and Weswood Avenues are also a big problem for the neighborhood.

    Nevertheless, this could be an interesting solution to the problems at hand. Again to agree with what Matt said above, consolidating traffic onto a two-way road is a good first step. I’d also want to make sure that at least one street (whichever one is to be more commercial) maintains building frontages on both sides. That pretty much makes options 1 and 2 a no-go, and based on how lackluster their rendering was done compared to 3-5 I suspect the planners involved agree that it would be too much “open space”. Still, which street would be best? I’m not really sure. The other problem is that the back ends of buildings will be facing this stream, and it makes me worry that it’ll end up lined with parking lots, chain link fences, trash, retaining walls, and who knows what else. I doubt it’ll be able to attract much in the way of rear patios, river walks, or anything else.