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Warren County senior housing development pursuing another subsidy

Schools, local governments split over effect of annexation for project

Hopkins Commons, the 160-unit, $22-million senior community under construction in Warren County, is being annexed by the Village of Mainevillle.

The annexation, currently pending, will enable the project - which has already been granted $10 million in subsidies - to avoid payments to the local school district in lieu of taxes set aside to help pay for the project through tax incremental financing (TIF).

“When the developer of Hopkins Commons approached Little Miami Schools last summer for a TIF, our board had many questions about this,” said Treasurer Terry Gonda in a statement. “As a district that is growing as rapidly as we are, our board was not inclined to forego the collection of property taxes that went beyond the 10 years permitted in the TIF code.

“However, after several months of discussions with the developer, we seemed to have reached an amicable agreement on an enterprise zone with Little Miami receiving payment in lieu of taxes. That was in December. Now it seems that deal has been scrapped for the annexation into Maineville.”

The annexation was approved on May 9 by the Warren County Board of Commissioners, over the objections of the Hamilton Twp. Board of Trustees who claimed the development would be better served by township services.

“You do not have the authority to address the quality of services,” said Bruce McGary, an assistant county prosecutor advising the commissioners.

Developer Bruce Rippe said he already had 15 applications for the apartments for the residential portion of the project to include a senior center, restaurant and banquet center for Warren County Community Services.

The project, along Ohio 48 south of Lebanon and adjoining the Regency Park subdivision, is envisioned as an intergenerational community where people of all ages will gather.

RELATED: Restaurant, banquet center among draws for people of all ages

“I think it will be a good asset,” Rippe told the commissioners.

Afterward Rippe said he needed the annexation to Maineville, because the village was willing to grant a 10-year, 75-percent TIF that would enable him to devote other project funds for improvements in the development. The school district, township and other taxing entities would still receive 25 percent of the taxes, 100 percent after 10 years.

In November, the trustees and school district agreed to share the property taxes from the development with the developer. The schools would get $279,000 a year, the township $59,000.00 per year, according to meeting minutes.

“I thought the deal was done,” Trustee David Wallace said.

But the trustees and schools balked when Rippe returned in December with new figures and seeking better terms. A decision was postponed until January.

“The problem was there was no interest in coming to an agreement that made the project viable,” Rippe said.

After the May 9 meeting, Mayor William Shearer said the village council would hold several readings before approving the annexation.

Shearer said the project would be an asset to the village, enabling local retirees to rent apartments in the complex and creating a place where the whole community could gather.

Also, a lighted sidewalk is to stretch from the village crossroads, about a five-minute walk south on Ohio 48, to Hopkins Commons.

“That’s a bonus for our whole area,” Shearer said.

The Maineville mayor also pointed to the involvement of the Rippe family as a key factor - along with earnings from a 1.75 percent earnings tax- in accepting the terms.

“They were very influential around here,” Shearer said, recalling for example, how the developer’s father Joe, helped get bridge repairs done in the past.

The family owned all the land now comprising Hopkins Commons and Regency Park, as well as extensive other holdings in this part of Ohio.

Shearer said he was awaiting legal work from the county enabling him to take the annexation before the village council.

Hopkins Commons is already the benefactor of about $10 million in subsidies, including $9 million from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, based on commitment that 33 of the units will be rented at a lower rate based on applicants’ income.

The agency awarded the project 10 years of income tax credits worth $6 million and more than $3 million in loans.

RELATED: Warren County project to get $9 million in state affordable housing subsidies

The Warren County Port Authority has signed leases with Rippe, taking temporary ownership of the buildings at Hopkins Commons.

This allows the developer to avoid an estimated $574,000 in sales tax. This money would otherwise be paid to the state and county for building materials used to construct the complex’s 127 market-rate apartments, as well as space for the senior center, meeting or activity rooms, offices and restaurant. Rippe paid $111,000 to the authority in closing costs and legal fees.

In addition, the county commissioners reduced tap-in fees more than $350,000, from slightly more than $1.3 million to $942,285.

RELATED: Tap-in fe es delayed for senior housing development in Warren County

Rippe has committed $2 million for a restaurant and banquet center to be built, along with a senior community center, to be developed by Warren County Community Services.

While the facility will be home to 160 independent living seniors, it is expected to draw people from the community, caregivers and teachers. As many as 100 jobs are to be created.

In addition, others are to be drawn to a dog park and community gardens, said Eugene Rose, CEO of Warren County Community Services, a non-profit social service provider.

“All of these things bring people to a project, money to a project and jobs to the community,” said Rose, who is also considering moving the provider’s executive offices from the home campus of Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices outside Lebanon to an office building proposed on other land owned by the Rippes, just north of Hopkins Commons.

Nathaniel Blanford, a Dayton native who studied with chef and restaurateur Paul Sturkey, has agreed to operate the 15,000 square foot restaurant and event center in collaboration with the culinary arts program at Sinclair Community College, Rose said.

“We’re pouring the concrete foundation today,” Rose said on Wednesday.

SOCIAL MEDIA:Follow Lawrence Budd on Twitter

By June, the first building is to be under roof and framed, he added.

The Maineville council has already approved a resolution and preannexation agreement supporting the project.

As in this case, Warren County Auditor Matt Nolan said developers commonly overvalue their projects.

Nolan said he projected the property value at about $13 million, half the $26 million Rippe has said he expects to be spent on the project.

In addition, he said that because there was subsidized housing involved, the project value could be reduced to 1/10th of the value.

He said the TIF needed to be in place by the end of the year.

“We haven’t seen anything,” Nolan said.

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