Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Westwood vs City of Cincinnati: A BOLD IDEA

I follow many local blogposts, discussion boards and the like and one thing is readily apparent. Westwood residents feel "dumped on" by the city and that, in my opinion, is a valid point.

When you drive through Westwood you see what was once a clean well kept community with a strong sense of neighborhood, rich architectural heritage. In just about any OTHER city, Westwood would be the "premiere neighborhood", the neighborhood everyone aspires to live in. Large comfortable late Victorian and early 20 homes would be selling for 5 times what they currently are. It's downtown business district would be filled with antique shops , art galleries and trendy stores. Its streets would be in great condition, well lighted and people would feel safe and secure.

But that is not the case. Harrison Ave is littered with cheap apartments. Once grand single family homes are cobbled into 7-10 apartments. The streets are crowded with cars due to lack of proper off street parking because many of these "apartments' are illegal conversions, done without permits. People loiter about and it is obvious that criminal activity is happening. Queen City is much the same way. Westwoods business district has vacant shops.

There are bright spots, however, you see "enclaves' of well kept homes with manicured lawns that show great pride and interest in their community, But for every group of well kept homes there is that "eyesore" property that drags the entire neighborhood down.

The residents of Westwood are mad. They are mad at a city that they feel is not listening. They are tired of watching their property values go down, of people with no interest in being a part of their community get a "free ride" and not be responsible residents.

Residents took matters into their own hands and boarded a property on Harrison. A property owned by out of state investors with no interest in being part of a community, and the city tries to make them out to be the "bad guys" for CARING about the way their community looks.

I get a lot of email from people in Westwood who read my blog and see what we are trying to do in our own little neighborhood of Knox Hill, how we are trying to breakaway from the "negative" image of Fairmount, to basically turnaround the neighborhood and "Just do it" . People also know I am not afraid to "call it as I see it" and challenge city officials to do better.

So to the residents of Westwood. It is obvious to me the city isn't listening, It is obvious the Council doesn't care, or the mayor for that matter. In my opinion the time has come for
"PUBLIC EMBARRASSMENT" of City Government, the Mayor, the council and everyone responsible. It IS an election year so the members of the council want to keep their 62,000 a year jobs.

My suggestion: The residents of Westwood need to petition the city for "DeAnnexation"! I know, sounds outlandish, doesn't it? But imagine the national publicity if a town, FED up with a city Government that isn't listening, that doesn't care, has to deal with Press from all accross the country asking them about a town wanting to Deannex itself from a major American City! Westwood a town that has been a part of Cincinnati for over a hundred years wants to leave because the city of Cincinnati is not holding up its part of the bargain and providing proper enforcement and city services. Imagine our Mayor on "Good Morning America" or the Today show trying to explain why residents want to cut ties from HIS government? How would he react to a yard sign campaign of residents with "Mayor Mallory, are you listening" OR 'Mayor Mallory, fix it or let us go!" Imagine the National Evening news: "The residents of Westwood, in an unheard of move, are formally petitioning the city of Cincinnati to "DeAnnex" itself from the city because of that city's failure to provide services."

The PR for Westwood is PRICELESS and the city is "put on the spot', ina very big way. The issues that are out there, that the city has chosen to ignor for far too long are now in the "Public light of day". Would the organizers of such a bold move be labeled "crackpots", probably, until the signatures started flowing, the protest yard signs popped up and it gets picked up as national story. I bet THEN the mayor and the council might like to have a conversation?

Now 'could' Westwood deannex its self and form its own city government? Probably not, BUT the amount of attention it would draw to city officials and the national level "hot seat' it puts them in , would probably result in them DOING THEIR JOB!


Mark Miller said...

Westwood was incorporated as a stand-alone village in 1868, and annexed into Cincinati in 1896. It is currently the city's largest neighborhood both by land area and population.

Could they deannex? Certainly, but it would be very painful for both entities. As you point out, the threat of it would probably be sufficient to arouse city leaders from their political coma. But it must be a serious threat to be effective.

See here and here for a local precedent.

Paul Wilham said...

You know I wonder if you asked the question, if the majority of Westwood property owners would rather be independent? Clearly the City of Cincinnati plan is resulting in a reduction the taxbase. A well thought out , well planned city of Westwood with serious zoning restrictions and code enforcement would result in a property tax base that would be the envy of Cincinnati.

Anonymous said...

I wish something would be done about Westwood, it is absolutely a gorgeous area not only in architecture but landscape. It's a shame to hear all the negative press there is about the area. As someone who wants to find a victorian to restore and live in long term, I am drawn to the area, but the constant talk of how the area is sliding continues to scare me away.

Quim said...

You would likely get a dumb knee jerk reaction from the gummint. Westwood is the way it is because Westwood residents wanted to move to new sprawly (as an old high school friend dubbed them) soup can houses. They wanted shiny climate controlled malls.
It's just trends in how people live. Cincinnati is slow. It seems like a lot of the people who want to fix homes and rebuild communities are not natives. In the history of the city the west side was always a little out due to the more entrenched east side power structure.
While this may seem anti westside/Westwwood - it is not. I am glad to see those guys fighting to maintain their neighborhood. You see how other neighborhoods succumbed to urban flight & their battle is extremely difficult.

Paul Wilham said...

What was suprising to me is just how many people did'nt run to the burbs as was the case in many areas. Even in my own neighborhood I have neighbors who bought in the 1960 and 1970's and are still in the neighborhood.

The current problems stem from the influx of section 8 and "investor types" who have picked up distressed property and rented them out without any regard to the neighbors. The BIG problem is that there are way too many illegal conversions of houses to apartments.

There is Large white stucco house on Harrison, near Fenton. Great house with large carriage house that was a great upscale single family home. It had 4 Mailboxes on it last fall , now there must be 10 and I doubt there was permit one pulled to do it. That is where the city has failed on enforcement. If slumlords had to actually go through zoning, provide proper parking, dumpster, pull permits and have real inspections they wouldnt be buying and converting single family to multi family.

Mark Miller said...

FYI, the stucco house is at 2294 Harrison. Auditor's info is here. True, no permits have been issued to that property since records went online in 1999, but it's zoned for 4-19 units, and conveyance forms show it as having 7 units in 1995, and again in 2008. It probably went from single to multi-family quite some time ago.

Shame too, that could easily be a half million dollar estate if it were on Erie Ave.

Anonymous said...

I had heard recently from someone who lives there that the reason there are so many more section eight people is because the city tore down some of the housing projects so the former residents got spread around.
Avondale was nice before the city incorporated it.

Jim McNulty said...

It's funny, but I had just sent a request for information on secession to Driehaus and Kearney yesterday, then Mary sent this to me today.
It's not a joke. The city is going hell-bent for Detroit.
It's time to invest our precious time on our own community of 35,000. We have the people here who just might pull it off.
Jim McNulty

Paul Wilham said...

2247 Harrison is set for demolition hearing June 12th. It is slightly run down but by no means needing demolition. It is on the market for 16K I think. Harrison Ave does not need another Vacant lot. I do not understand the blight=buldozer mentality of this city when it come to historic homes. I certainly see it on the later infil apartments. This house is VERY restorable, on a huge hilltop lot and just needs someone with a little time and money to restore it.It would be waste of taxpayer dollars to tear it down!
Westwood needs control of their neighborhood.