In the ongoing saga of Western & Southern vs. the Anna Louise Inn, there have been several court cases and zoning rulings, most of which have been appealed by one side or the other. Today it was the Cincinnati Zoning Board of Appeals’ turn to rule on something that’s already been ruled on, and it went in favor of the Anna Louise Inn.
The Board upheld a certificate of appropriateness for the Anna Louise Inn’s planned renovation, which essentially also upholds the Historic Conservation Board’s right to issue a conditional use permit — at least for now. Western & Southern is expected to appeal that permit, granted by the Conservation Board Aug. 27, before its 30-day window to do so expires.
Before this series of appeals can play out, the 1st District Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the Anna Louise Inn’s appeal of Judge Norbert Nadel’s May 27 ruling, which set in motion the Inn’s attempts to secure zoning approval from the Historical Conservation Board in the first place.
(All of this could have been avoided if Western & Southern would have purchased the Anna Louise Inn when it had the chance. CityBeat previously reported the details of Western & Southern’s failure to purchase the Inn and the company’s subsequent attempts to force the Inn out of the neighborhood here.)
About 40 people attended today’s hearing, including City Councilman Wendell Young, who said he supports the Anna Louise Inn but was not there to testify on its behalf.
By upholding the certificate of appropriateness, the ruling keeps alive a conditional use permit that could allow the Anna Louise Inn to move forward with a $13 million renovation of its historic building, once the expected appeals process plays out. (CityBeat covered the Aug. 27 Historical Conservation Board hearing here.)
The Board heard brief arguments from lawyers for both Western & Southern and Cincinnati Union Bethel and then entered executive session for about 15 minutes before ruling in favor of the Anna Louise Inn.
Western & Southern lawyer Francis Barrett, who is the brother of Western & Southern CEO John Barrett and a member of the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees, told CityBeat after the meeting that he disagreed with the board’s finding because a designed expansion of the building’s fifth floor has not yet had its use approved.
“With this case, the Historical Conservation Board is basically approving for the certificate of appropriateness the design of the building,” Barrett said. “But the design included an expansion of the fifth floor, and until that use issue is resolved the code reads, in my opinion, you can’t approve the design because the use hasn’t been approved.”
Barrett during the hearing read a written statement to the board arguing two main points: that the Historic Conservation Board didn’t have the jurisdiction to grant the certificate of appropriateness; and even if it did, Barrett argued, the physical expansion planned makes it a non-conforming use which wouldn’t qualify for the building permit.
Cincinnati Union Bethel attorney Tim Burke told the Board that the Anna Louise Inn is not seeking a permit for non-conforming use because it already received a conditional use permit from the Historic Conservation Board.
“Western & Southern is doing everything it can to block this renovation from happening,” Burke told the Board.
At the Historic Conservation Board hearing last month
Western & Southern tried paint a picture of the Anna Louise Inn’s
residents contributing to crime in the area because a condition of the
conditional use permit is that the building’s use will not be
detrimental to public health and safety or negatively affect property
values in the neighborhood. But the Board granted the permit, stating
that the Anna Louise Inn will not be detrimental to public health and
safety or harmful to nearby properties in the neighborhood and that the
Board found no direct evidence connecting residents of the Anna Louise
Inn to criminal activity in the neighborhood. Western & Southern has until next week to appeal that ruling.
This morning, social conservatives around the world dug themselves into Armageddon-resistant bunkers, preparing for what they knew was coming. Today, marijuana and same-sex marriage were being legalized in Washington state.
But the bunkers may have been a waste of time and money, considering the end of the world didn’t occur. In fact, it seems like a lot of people are happy with the legal changes, which voters approved on Nov. 6.
From the perspective of this CityBeat writer, same-sex marriage would be great. It’s something I wrote about extensively before (“The Evolution of Equality,” Nov. 28 issue). As a refresher, not only does same-sex marriage bring a host of benefits to same-sex couples, but it also produces economic benefits for everyone. A recent study from Bill LaFayette, founder of Regionomics LLC, found that legalizing gay marriage would grow Ohio’s gross domestic product, which measures economic worth, by $100-$126 million within three years.
Marijuana has similar benefits. Not only does it give people the freedom to put a relatively harmless plant into their bodies, but it also provides a big boon to state budgets. For Washington, it’s estimated the marijuana tax will bring in as much as $500 million a year.
Legalization also creates jobs and economic growth as businesses pop up to sell the product and customers buy the plant to toke up. Washington State’s Office of Financial Management estimates the marijuana market will be worth about $1 billion in the state. Considering the state is about 2 percent of the U.S. population, that could be extrapolated to indicate a potential $50 billion nationwide market.
Still, public use of marijuana and driving while intoxicated remain illegal. In a press conference Wednesday, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said, “If you're smoking in plain public view, you're subject to a ticket. … Initiative 502 uses the alcohol model. If drinking in public is disallowed, so is smoking marijuana in public.”
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) seems a bit friendlier. In an email today, SPD told officers to only give verbal warnings until further notice. The warnings should essentially tell people to take their marijuana inside, or, as SPD spokesperson Jonah Spangenthal-Lee put it on the SPD Blotter, “The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a ‘Lord of the Rings’ marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to.”
The Washington law also faces possible federal resistance.
Even though the state legalized pot, the drug is still illegal under
federal law. That means the feds can still shut down marijuana
businesses and arrest buyers, just like they have with legal medical marijuana
dispensaries in the past.
In fact, maybe the limitations are what’s keeping the
apocalypse at bay. Maybe social conservatives will get to make use of
those bunkers if the rest of the country catches on to Washington’s
Today’s issue of The Whistleblower – a gossipy Web-based newsletter – published the home address of U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Price Hill), who voted in favor of the recent health care reform bill. The newsletter suggests opponents stage a protest at his house on Sunday.
An animal rights group had one of its members question executives of the Kroger Co. grocery store chain at its annual shareholders meeting held here Thursday.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had member Lindsay Rajt, who also is a Kroger shareholder, ask during the meeting whether Kroger has plans to move toward a less cruel method of poultry slaughter, called "controlled-atmosphere killing" (CAK), instead of its current practice.
Just hours after a Swiss bank froze access today to a legal defense fund established for WikiLeaks provocateur Julian Assange, a group of hackers have shut down the bank's Web site in an escalating "infowar."
A group calling itself Operation Payback took responsibility for the Internet attack on the Swiss bank, PostFinance, via its Twitter account. "We will fire at anyone that tries to censor WikiLeaks," the group said in its announcement.
After two days of testimony, the criminal trespassing trial of some Occupy Cincinnati protestors has been continued until Jan. 30 while attorneys on both sides continue to negotiate a possible resolution.
Meanwhile, the Occupy Cincinnati group isn't resting; it will stage an event called “Recharge Weekend” on Saturday and Sunday, designed to boost the morale of participants and devise a more precise, clear agenda for moving forward.
• Prematurity/low birth weight (prematurity is the No. 1 cause of infant death)
• Congenital anomalies
• Sudden infant death syndromeThese abnormalities are distributed differently across demographics, especially varying across race brackets.
It will be headed to the riverfront, after all.
U.S. Transportation Ray LaHood will hold a conference call Thursday afternoon with media to announce that Cincinnati's planned streetcar system is getting a $10.92 million grant. The announcement is set for 12:15 p.m.
On Wednesday the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio unanimously ruled that Akron, Ohio-based energy supplier FirstEnergy Corp. must credit its Ohio customers $43.3 million for overcharging for renewable energy credits (RECs) from 2009-2011 that it purchased from its affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions.
RECs are tradable, non-tangible energy credits that represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sourced from an eligible renewable energy resource. First Energy Solutions is an energy generator and supplier, while First Energy Corp. is an electricity distributor, which means that it sources its electricity from elsewhere, which requires them to issue bids seeking the most competitively priced energy from a supplier such as First Energy Solutions.
According to the First Energy Corp. website, First Energy Solutions is the competitive subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. Both suppliers are based in Akron. An audit conducted by Exeter Associates Inc. revealed that FirstEnergy Corp. paid 15 times more than any other company in the country to purchase the RECs from FirstEnergy Solutions, and FirstEnergy Corp. passed that overcharge onto consumers.
In a copy of the order issued yesterday by the PUC obtained by CityBeat, it states that, "The Companies contend that, given the nascent market, lack of market information available to the Companies, and uncertainty regarding future supply and prices, the Companies' decisions to purchase in-state RECs were reasonable and prudent."
In summary, FirstEnergy contends that because it was scrambling to find a way to meet the state's Clean Energy Law requirements, it had to buy these RECs no matter the cost, and that there are no legal specifications within the Clean Energy Law that requires RECs be purchased or sold at market price; and that the costs issued to them, and subsequently, customers, weren't unreasonable.
The Ohio Consumers Counsel, however, says that there were cheaper alternatives available and that FirstEnergy should have checked with the PUC prior to paying 15 times more for RECs than any other country had in the past. If they'd rejected the exorbitant bids, says OCC, and instead consulted with PUC and OCC, they could have come up with a solution to prevent from charging customers excessively high rates.
In June 2012, FirstEnergy Solutions was the winning bidder in Cincinnati's energy aggregation program, which is supposed to allow us to receive lower "aggregate" rates for buying in bulk. At the time, FirstEnergy touted the merits of its "100 percent green" energy supply, sourced from wind, solar, biomass and other renewable resources. The bid was expected to save homeowners around $133 annually.
What enabled FirstEnergy to provide the "clean" energy was its use of a system with non-tangible renewable energy credit (RECs) that each represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sources from a renewable energy resource.
Purchasing the credits from its subsidiary allows FirstEnergy Corp. to meet the state's renewable energy standard, which requires that by 2025 all Ohio utility companies provide at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable resources.
Because the lawsuit issued by the PUC examines only the amount paid for RECs during compliance periods between 2009 and 2011, Cincinnati customers who switched to FirstEnergy Solutions last June should not be affected, although the FirstEnergy arms' ambiguous behavior, says Dan Sawmiller, a Sierra Club member who manages Ohio's Beyond Coal campaign, is a likely indicator that the company may be engaging in other unethical practices related to consumer transparency.
The company has not been devoid of controversy in the past. In March, CityBeat reported on state environmental groups' concerns with the movement to lower requirements for defining renewable energy and energy efficiency; FirstEnergy was part of the bloc working to weaken Ohio's Clean Energy Law in hopes of keeping corporation costs low. FirstEnergy was also chastised by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2009 for distributing and charging customers for energy-efficient light bulbs without receiving customers' authorization.
Sawmiller commended the PUC for fining First Energy, although he suggests the fine is likely modest for the actual damages. He still expresses concern about the need for corporate separation between the two FirstEnergy arms. "The commission left much to be desired in terms of transparency, leaving customers in the dark about what types of renewables are being provided, where are they coming from and at what cost," says Sawmiller in Sierra Club's press release.