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The Bell administration Thursday withdrew a controversial proposal to spend more than $1 million on an undeveloped plot of land, throwing its support instead behind a councilman's plea to put the money toward demolishing blighted homes.
Deputy Mayor Tom Crothers announced the withdrawal of the administration's request to buy the 48 acres in southwest Toledo known as Capital Commons during an unusually well-attended committee hearing Thursday. About two dozen community members turned up at City Hall to show their support for Councilman Mike Craig's idea of using $650,000 to turbocharge the tearing down of abandoned buildings.
"We understand where you are," Mr. Crothers told the gathering, acknowledging also that the Capital Commons proposal lacked support from City Council.
"With all the need in the neighborhoods, we preferred to find another way to resolve our commitment to the Capital Commons folks," he added later.
The Capital Commons proposal, part of the city's recently released capital improvements plan, would have dedicated $350,000 annually for the next three years for purchasing the property, located at 5600 Angola Rd. The total cost, $1,050,000, would have been more than double the value assessed by the Lucas County Auditor's office, which lists the parcel's worth at $426,200.
City administrators maintain the city has obligations to the property owners because the government promised them years ago to help develop the land. But Mr. Craig and other councilmen objected to the plan and said the funds could be put to better use elsewhere.
"Nothing against Capital Commons. I just think the time has come to pay more attention to our neighborhoods," Mr. Craig told the committee Thursday. "Over 26,000 people have left Toledo in 10 years. That's over 13,000 taxpayers and we need taxpayers to support our city."
Mr. Craig's ordinance, first put forward last week, asked for $650,000 over two years to go toward building demolitions. The committee Thursday modified the request to $350,000 for this year. Council is expected to pass the measure Tuesday.
The extra money would allow the city to buy more demolition equipment and destroy about 80 more blighted homes and apartments this year and next, Mr. Craig said. The city has about 400 buildings slated for demolition in 2011 out of a total list of 600.
More buildings are constantly being added to the list, making it difficult for the city to keep up.
The buildings pose a safety hazard as they are frequent targets for arson attacks and are often havens for illegal activity. Blighted properties also bring down the value of other homes in a neighborhood.
The city's support of the demolition proposal was met with elation among those in attendance Thursday. Several residents and neighborhood advocates stood up to thank the city and councilman for backing the plan.
"This is the first time I'm in front of you guys and not yelling at you," said East Toledo resident Gail Wahl, explaining that she is surrounded by vacant properties and that many people have moved away from her neighborhood because of blight. "We're losing families, we're losing taxpayers. This is a huge step for us to bring back our communities," Ms. Wahl said.
Charlotte Parks, a central Toledo resident, urged the city not to forget her neighborhood and to prioritize the removal of buildings that pose a safety risk to residents, such as an abandoned home near a school.
"Our neighborhoods need to be taken care of," she insisted. "I would like to see property really in need of coming down to protect our children come down."
Mr. Crothers, meanwhile, said the city would continue to hold discussions with the owners of Capital Commons to come up with a solution for the property.
Mr. Crothers said the owners are Tom Schlachter and Paul Avery, although Mr. Schlachter has assigned his share of the land to St. Francis de Sales High School.
School president, the Rev. Ronald Olszewski, told The Blade recently that St. Francis had been depending on the sale of the land to help pay for an expansion of the school. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6272.