Lebanon to buy fire station land; $18M development still in works

Warren County commissioners are expected to sign off Tuesday on the sale of six acres of the county fairgrounds to the city of Lebanon.

The $210,000 deal would leave another nearby six-acre site, already owned by the city, for a private development valued at $18 million, one that is expected to include about 100 apartments or town homes, up to 15,000 square feet of commercial space and a 350-spot parking lot.

“As is evident by the current private development interest in the 511 N. Broadway property, the city believes that the best use of this property is to see it develop in a manner that helps grow the city’s tax base,” Lebanon City Manager Scott Brunka said in an email responding to questions about plans for the two sites and another city-owned parcel nearby on North Broadway.

City staff and lawyers are analyzing an agreement proposed by Jim Cohen for construction of two restaurants and a brewpub, as well as the apartments, just north of Berry Intermediate School.

RELATED: 2 restaurants, brewpub sign letters of intent to move into proposed Lebanon development

The development, according to letters included in the early proposal, would include Cozy’s Café & Pub in Liberty Twp., Butler County, and Two Cities Pizza in Mason, Warren County, as well as the Casual Pint, a Knoxville-based chain with locations in Mason, Loveland and the Oakley neighborhood of Cincinnati.

The project is expected to “revitalize the part of the city’s downtown area in which the property is located, to provide public access, parking and other amenities, and to facilitate commercial and residential development in close proximity to the city’s downtown area, all of which are expected to enhance city tax revenues,” according to Cohen’s proposal.

The former fairgrounds land, just north of the private development, is to be turned into Lebanon’s main fire station, with future plans for a police station to be built on the property on the southeastern corner of the fairgrounds.

Consultants have put the cost of the facility at as much as $7 million, about $2 million more than anticipated by city officials.

RELATED: Lebanon to build new station, seeking 9 mill levy

The city’s newsletter included the headline: “Fire & Emergency Services Levy Necessary to Protect Our Community,” with a two-page presentation on a five-year, 9-mill levy for fire protection and emergency services on November ballots.

Issue 3 would replace an existing 7-mill levy.

In addition to the new main station, replacing one expected to be used by LCNB for its new bank facility, the levy is to pay for full-time firefighters and paramedics recently added to handle growing calls for service.

Last Tuesday, with two members absent, the city council gave Brunka authority to sign the purchase agreement with the county. The council backed the deal after removal of a clause giving the county first dibs on buying the land back if the city decided to resell it or the fire station plan fell through.

RELATED: $25 million in development planned on short stretch of main Lebanon street

The other location looked at for the new station is across Broadway in Colonial Park West, on land that slopes away from the road.

It was rejected because building there would have added “considerable amount of expense to the overall project construction cost in addition to the concern that the building would be close to residential properties,” Brunka said.

On Friday, Brunka emphasized staff and Richard Herndon, a lawyer specializing in commercial real estate, were reviewing Cohen’s proposed development agreement.

“There will be significant changes to the agreement before it is presented to City Council,” the city manager said in an email.

The city anticipates collecting $65,000 more in annual income tax, and $146,897 in impact fees for parks and transportation. Local businesses are expected to benefit from more than $1.1 million in annual local spending from new residents and other sources related to the project.

MORE: Developer breaks ground on new development in Hamilton

Cohen’s proposed terms call for his company “to develop, construct and operate” the project in exchange for a series of conditions.

Those include that the city would sell the land (valued at $700,000) for $100, while retaining title to the parking area and a lot that would be shared with the school district’s bus garage.

Along the section of Broadway fronting the development, the city would relocate overhead utility lines and install “pedestrian friendly streetscape improvements” including a two-lane road, turn lane, bicycle lane, parallel public parking spaces and a tree lawn.

In front of Berry school, the city would build “certain park and cultural improvements” before the development is ready to open. A veterans memorial is expected, but an amphitheater is no longer in the plans.

RELATED: Lebanon considers building amphitheater on front lawn of historic school

Real estate taxes, projected at $241,850 a year on the development, would be forgiven for 15 years.

Water and sewer tap and other fees would be capped at $10,000.

The city would wait five years before providing assistance or selling any other city property within a 1-mile radius “for any such new, ground-up multi-family projects.”

The city is to help Cohen negotiate with the Warren County Port Authority, Lebanon City Schools “and other third parties and agencies.”

The development is to wind up owned by the port authority and leased back to Cohen’s company to exempt it from sales tax on construction materials for the project, according to the proposed agreement.

The city is expected to complete analysis and a counter-proposal next week, Brunka said.

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