Cincinnati Park Board Discusses Future Of Burnet Woods

Jun 28, 2018

The Cincinnati Park Board is asking its staff and stakeholders to come up with a vision and plan for Burnet Woods in Clifton.

The board unanimously approved a motion making that request during its meeting Thursday morning.

It comes as there are at least two proposals for using some of the 90 acres inside Burnet Woods -- one for an arts center and another for a "living building," otherwise known as sustainable design.

"What is our vision for Burnet Woods?" asked board member Jim Goetz. He said there needs to be a plan to "activate it, preserve it and bring in people."

The Park Board has been working with the Camping and Education Foundation on a joint nature education program, which could include an urban wilderness center at Burnet Woods.

Meanwhile, the Clifton Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) has presented a concept of locating its facility in the park as well.

Those two groups made presentations to the Park Board and about 160 residents during a public meeting in May.

The CCAC presented more information during Thursday's meeting.

In March 2017, the Cincinnati School Board terminated the CCAC's lease for its current Clifton location.  The school district, which owns the building, said it needed the facility to meet the neighborhood's need for a school.

The CCAC must vacate by the end of August, and will be operating at satellite locations until it's able to find a new, permanent home. That process could take two to three years.

It proposed to build a 25,000 to 35,000-square-foot facility inside Burnet Woods. The design and construction work would have a price tag of $7-9 million.  

More than 30 speakers offered split opinions during the meeting. Some support the CCAC project while others insist there should be no development inside Burnet Woods.

Phillip Herrick told the board Burnet Woods is underutilized.

"Cincinnati has several successful examples were arts and parks bring people together," Herrick said. "Such partnerships provide resources that our parks might not otherwise have."

Resident Sean Mullaney has been working with the CCAC to find a site in the Clifton area, and he said the group is running out of possible sites.

"I really believe that with Burnet Woods we can find a mutually agreeable place that's a win-win that could work if it's put in the right place, built the right way to have the least environmental impact on the park as possible, and hopefully try to increase wildlife and habitat," Mullaney said.

But opponents fear just the opposite, that any development in Burnet Woods will destroy the habitat it provides wildlife, especially birds, within an urban setting.

"When I read about how CCAC lost the building they put so much effort into, I felt really bad for them," said resident Vivian Wagner. "What the school board did to them was wrong. But two wrongs do not make a right and putting a community arts center with parking into Burnet Wood is wrong."

Wagner said it works against the board's primary mission of conserving and sustaining the city's greenspaces.

Local attorney Tim Mara said the CCAC proposal is a "good thing in the wrong place."

"This facility belongs somewhere in a business district or other location in the Clifton area," Mara said. "To use Burnet Woods for this purpose is setting a dangerous precedent. Park land is not vacant, idle land just sitting there. It serves a purpose unto itself and needs not be used for other things."

Park Board Chairman Brad Linder said he wanted to know several things from CCAC before making a decision. He offered questions about the facility's size, location, parking and money for maintenance once the center is operating.

There's no timeframe for when park staff will have a vision and plan completed for Burnet Woods. It's also not clear who will be involved in creating the proposal. Several residents at the meeting volunteered to participate in the process.

The CCAC's timeline presented to the park board calls for selecting a site for a new facility this year. Construction is proposed to start next year with completion in 2020 or 2021.