Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bank Street , Preservation: Eliminate the "Demo Loophole"

Thanks to Urban Cincy for valuable updates . http://www.urbancincy.com/2009/02/historic-bank-street-demolitions-update.html

These properties are in REAL DANGER of being lost forever and it calls to the need for a fundamental change in the way the city approaches both enforcement and permits.

Everyone agrees that "Minimum Standards" for building maintenance are in the best interests of the public good. The city notifies property owners that they are not in compliance and can take the necessary legal steps to see property owners maintain their property. Many of us in the Preservation community would argue that the standards are not strong enough but that is another argument for a later day.

For all the city's good intention, they basically leave open a huge loophole that "slumlords" can drive through and circumvent maintenance of historic buildings. The loophole is allowing a property owner to simply pull a demolition permit and tear the building down.

Cincinnati is one a a very few cities I know that allow a property owner to pull a demolition permit to tear down a property themselves. We allow a property owner who may not have any construction, much less, demolition background to rent a bulldozer and tear down a building! Often these buildings are Manually demolished or disassembled taking months to complete. During this time there is no security fencing and often no insurance in case a child were to wander into this attractive nuisance and be injured. Not to mention that the Urban Density of Cincinnati often meant you have adjacent attached buildings or home so close that miscalculation could result in damage or potential injury to people next door.

Will it take some child killed injured or killed an one of these "do-it-yourself" demolition sites or
a house falling against a restored home next to it,for the city to wake up and realize the HUGE
legal liability that they city has created. Does the council believe that if someone is killed or injured that the family of the injured person will go after a property owner who pulled the permit , OR, will they go after the city that allowed an unskilled , unlicensed , person with no engineering background to get a permit?

The city loses ANY leverage they have when dealing with a difficult property owner. 'Threaten me with jail? FINE, I will just get a permit and tear the house down". It cost the city 7-12,000.00 to demolish a property and rarely does the city recover those costs.

If we close the "demo loophole" and allow a demolition permit to be pulled ONLY by a licenced general demolition contractor who must post a bond with the city to protect the city, then the city has real leverage.

The property owner is then looking at spending THOUSANDS in demolition costs. This makes"fixing' the property the better solution, and the city has real leverage against property owners who simply don't care about properties once they have been milked dry.

Demolition must also be a two step process. Demolition is a ZONING CHANGE and directly affects the assessed value of that property but also affects the property value of the neighborhood. Instead of a house assessed at 10K we have a vacant lot assessed at 1K. If a zoning change were required for a demolition permit, Community council would be notified.

Personally I would like to see those seeking a demo permit to submit engineering reports prior to obtaining a permit on a property more than 100 yrs old and that report be reviewed by Historic preservation.

The Bank Street properties illustrate why this system is broken and why the council needs to adopt meaningful ordinance and permit changes.


CityKin said...

Cincinnati, and Ohio do not have licensing of general contractors or of demolition contractors. I think there would be hesitation to implement another layer of paper to pull permits. They do require that to set a dumpster on the street, that you post a bond in case you damage the street.

Demolition permits in historic districts are required to get approval of Historic Conservation Board, unless it is an emergency demolition.

Paul Wilham said...

According to the city website there is contractor registration and the requirements include:
1,Name of Applicant/registrant
2.Name of business entity
3.Current residence and business address
4.Current residence and business address of applicant.
5.Attachments to comply with Chapter 1106 of CMC
a.Proof of minimum liablilty insurance.
b.proof of workers comp
c 10K Surety Bond

So if you require Permits for demolition to be done by registered contrcators only it becomes a much more expensive prospect for slumlords.