|People filled the room, remaining socially distant, at the Southgate City Council meeting to discuss the development encompassing the Beverly Hills Supper Club property.|
By Robin Gee, city council beat editor
Southgate City Council has voted unanimously to approve a zone change that clears the way for a $65 million mixed use development on property that includes the site of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire.
Earlier in the month, the Campbell County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the change. Originally designated a Professional Office zone, the change would make the property a combination of residential R3 and Residential R1E zone (clustered development) with a General Commercial zone along US 27.
An emotionally charged meeting
The Memorial Point project will include about 78 acres bordered by I-471, US 27 and Blossom Drive, featuring single family attached and detached homes, apartments, an assisted living facility and a public memorial to the 165 victims of the 1977 fire.
The developers, Edgewood-based Ashley Builders and Cincinnati-based Vision Realty Group, plan to put the memorial at the base of the hill leading into the development rather than at the top of the hill, where the supper club once stood. That portion of the property would be turned into a private park to be owned and managed through the development’s homeowners association.
A group of survivors, victims’ family members and others, calling themselves “Respect the Dead” (RTD) came to voice their opposition to the plan to make the actual site of the fire a private park. They said the site may still contain remains of their family members and that the ground should remain untouched with a fitting memorial and accessible to the public.
It was an emotionally charged meeting with many recounting stories of their family members and friends who perished, and what the site means to them.
A concern for access and protection for possible remains
Attorney Stephen Megerle, representing the RTD group, had challenged the legality of the project, pointing to a state ban on land considered a burial ground, although that point was not discussed further at the meeting. He noted that the group has not been opposed to the development itself, but has concerns about access and protection of possible remains on the site.
A flyer issued by the group before the meeting asked that an archaeological study be done to find remains. The developer had argued that all remains were found and removed after the fire, but relatives of some victims said they did not receive all the remains and believed some are still on the site.
Another concern outlined in the flyer stated the city would not be able to provide proper fire protection for the hillside community. City fire officials said the city does have some of the funds and is exploring the purchase of a new firetruck, possibly a rescue pumper or one equipped with aerial apparatus.
Most comments echoed concerns about being able to access the actual site of the fire without having to get permission from a homeowners’ association.
The developer did agree to allow people access to the park on the anniversary of the tragedy and at other times but stuck to the requirement that visitors must get consent of the homeowners’ association.
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City deliberates and decides
Some spoke in favor of the development and the plans for the public memorial at the base of the hill. David Brock, a survivor of the fire and member of another group, the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire Group, said he was in favor of the development and had been in contact with the developers in the earlier planning stages.
The developers agreed to stop if any remains were uncovered on the site, but Mergerle requested a development agreement that included a promise to conduct a full archaeological study. He also said it would not be unreasonable to ask that the developer help fund a fire truck with aerial apparatus.
After deliberation, Council Member Joe Anderson made the motion to accept the zone change. He reiterated that all work must stop should remains be found and that the memorial plans must include community input. He also noted that public access should be permitted, although limited. Council Member Chris Robisch seconded and the body voted unanimously in favor of making the zone change.