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OTR Residents Object To Permanent Outdoor Dining Expansion

UPDATE 12/16/20: Cincinnati City Council unanimously voted in favor of the expansion Wednesday.

An expansion of outdoor dining in Over-the-Rhine, the Central Business District and Pendleton is sparking controversy after some say there hasn't been enough community input in the planning process.

Both residents and city officials say they want restaurants to survive the pandemic, so in May, the city closed some streets downtown to aid them with outdoor dining. Now, five plans are being presented that could extend sidewalks in certain areas or close some streets to traffic entirely.

But residents add the change should not be permanent without more research on pedestrian safety, traffic and how it will impact people living nearby.

Margy Waller is a board member on the Over-the-Rhine Community Council and was among many people during Monday's Budget and Finance Committee meeting who said they opposed the permanent expansion without more research.

"I think that it's very clear that the community has been supportive of the restaurants and would probably very likely support an extended temporary closure," she said. "But to permanently close streets without any community engagement and to expend funds promised we would have input on before you spend the money is really a slap in the face."

But Mayor John Cranley and others said not only will this help restaurants in the short-term, but it will also make the city more attractive in the long-term.

"And for cities to be vibrant, we have to do the things that we as a group and a city council have been preaching for years, which is to give people an option that isn't so car-dependent, to give people walkable downtowns and Over-the-Rhines, to give people really great outdoor eating opportunities," he said.

He called the issue "one of the most symbolic fights for the soul of the future of Cincinnati."

If approved, the first phase of the expansion calls for $2 million for infrastructure expenses.

City Council has the issue on the agenda for Wednesday.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.