Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mayor Responds to Lease on Retirement Center Project

by Jeff Schaffer

At Friday’s Ohio University Board of Trustees meeting, one topic of discussion will be the university land that could be leased for the development of a new retirement center. OU is negotiating the lease with project developer National Church Residences.

The land, 16 acres off Stimson Avenue, was recently appraised at $480,000. The university originally had planned to lease the land for $1 a year, but the Board of Trustees has the final decision on how much the area will be leased for.

At his news conference on Wednesday, Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl said he is not sure if the original price will stick.

“I was kind of surprised at the cost, the assessed value of the land, from the university’s point of view,” Wiehl said. “I guess they’ll probably charge more than a dollar, I hope.”

Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl on the retirement center

Development of the project began in 2004 and was met with a lot of debate. One of the biggest concerns was that the center will be located on a flood plain.
“They will have to build up a certain amount of height,” Wiehl said. “Last time I heard they don’t know where they’re going to get the dirt.”

NCR needs a source of dirt to make the land safe for construction

The ordinance that allowed development of the retirement center was passed by Athens City Council in January of 2006. Another ordinance was passed at the same time that allowed OU a license to use the city's right of way to Morris Avenue. Both had to get past lawsuits filed by Athens residents.

Wiehl represented Athens' First Ward before he took over as mayor last month, and was not the project's biggest supporter during its development.

"Personally, I like the open space better than the retirement community," he said.

The Athens Messenger reported on Tuesday that even after the Board of Trustees drafts a lease, the Ohio Department of Administrative Services would have to finalize it.

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