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Finkbeiner opposes permits for school site

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner yesterday vetoed the special-use permits granted to two proposed downtown charter schools, saying the sites are inappropriate.

The veto drew strong opposition from the developer of one of the sites, the former Zenobia Shrine building at 1517 Madison Ave.

The Maritime Academy of Toledo is seeking a permit for a building at 1000 Monroe St. and Imagine Schools, based in Arlington, Va., is seeking a permit for the Shrine building.

City Council approved both zoning permits May 29, each by an 8-4 vote, one vote short of the nine needed to override a veto.

Mr. Finkbeiner said putting schools at the two locations would conflict with the Toledo 20/20 Comprehensive Plan, which requires the area to be a mixed-use zone with an emphasis on entertainment.

The two sites are better suited for businesses or offices that would not be exempt from property taxes, the mayor's memo to council said.

Downtown developer David Ball, who is brokering a sale from the Shriners to Imagine Schools, based in Arlington, Va., said the mayor is the only one to oppose the permit for the Zenobia Shrine building.

"I am absolutely shocked that the mayor did that. It certainly is not a good decision," Mr. Ball said. "We have not one neighbor in opposition to our school. The mix is legal and it fits well."

He said the Uptown Association has endorsed the school and that it was unanimously approved by the Toledo Plan Commission.

Mr. Ball said the mayor seemed to be bowing to pressure from the Toledo Federation of Teachers, which represents Toledo Public Schools teachers. The public schools compete

with charter schools for state funding and students.

TFT President Francine Lawrence called council members to express her opposition on the day of council's vote, council members have said. She did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment about the veto.

Imagine Schools' facility would open with 25 employees and eventually grow to 75. It plans an investment of about $5 million, Mr. Ball said.

Mr. Ball said the city is courting a lawsuit from the Shriners, who will argue that the city's rejection of the permit was not based on land-use reasons.

"The city is going to be sued if City Council lets this happen," Mr. Ball said.

Council President Rob Ludeman said he hopes at least one of the four dissenting councilmen will support the permit - and thus enable a veto override - on Tuesday. He said opposition to charter schools, which was cited by one councilman, is not a valid reason to defeat the permit.

He also said personality differences cannot influence land-use issues. The mayor's law department has sued Mr. Ball over the delayed redevelopment of the former Toledo Edison Steam Plant next to Promenade Park.

He said land-use decisions have to be based on factors such as traffic, noise, parking, and negative impact on surrounding properties.

The Shriners organization, which has been at the site since 1949, is searching for a suburban location to build a new permanent headquarters.

Both school sites are in an "entertainment district," which is eligible for extra liquor permits.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.

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