Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Do we need a "Preservation Early Warning System"?

The Enquirers Steve Kemme reported on the impending loss of the Dr Charles Mets house , a noted archaeologist. http://communitypress.cincinnati.com/article/AB/20091102/NEWS01/911030321/Archaeologist+s+house+to+be+razed


The house itself is not an architectural masterpiece, its a rather non-descript house but in terns of historical significance, it is important to the history of Ohio and its loss will forever remove a part of Ohio history.


My own experience with my own house revealed that our house was once owned by Antone Nagele who was a well known stone mason no doubt responsible for providing stonework to a number of significant buildings. In short , many houses have story or history that is part of what made Cincinnati the city it is. Had we not come along when we did there would probably be vacant lot by now. I suspect every house in my neighborhood has a story to tell.

As we all know our "bulldoze happy" city council and city administration is perfectly OK with collecting all the Federal Dollars they can and spending those monies on "blight". In other words bulldozing Cincinnati. Despite numerous attempts at education to city officials about, the city about the value of historic architecture and heritage tourism as a economic development tool, they just do not get it.

So how do we "get ahead of the problem" so we are not at the last minute trying to save a house from the bulldozer?

Well we have to start being proactive at the local neighborhood level and we need some co-ordination, perhaps by CPA or some other group or entity to do it. Preservation groups across the country create an annual "most endangered' list. That is good thing as it serves to draw attention to the issue , however often by the time we are at that point it is too late.

What we need is "Preservation Triage" we need to identify at the local neighborhood level, those houses , that if some intervention doesn't happen soon, will likely be lost to the city bulldozer. Now where do we start? Well the VBML list is a good place. We need to look at those properties on the VBML and see if owners are willing to list their houses for sale? Many people faced with the high cost of a VBML would, if they thought that there was any interest, put the property up for sale. They often believe the property 'just isn't worth anything" and are content to just give up and let the city have its way, meaning nuisance hearing and eventual demolition.

We could also "try" to push the city to create a "diversion program' for those facing a VBML Give them the option to list the house for sale, They would have to sign an agreement to disclose the pending issues as part of the diversion program, agree to disclose those with a realtor as a condition of sale. The city could create a city run "endangered properties website" maybe through the Historic Preservation office or even CPA or some other entity to advertise the house for sale. The extra 90-120 Days could often result in a house being sold to someone with the means to save it.

We know VBML orders a pretty much ignored anyway, why not try this diversion program as a 'less adversarial' method of bringing property into compliance. Neighborhood groups who have their own endangered property websites could be linked to this page and this could be marketed to local realtors working with clients who are working with "old house' buyers.

Neighborhood groups need to follow and keep aware of the foreclosures in their neighborhoods. If a property is in 'pre foreclosure or foreclosure and is open. It is FAR better tom contact city inspections, get it secured, than have the house trashed, making it that much harder to eventually restore it. Neighborhood groups need to be proactive and cut the grass on those properties (we all know the city wont do it).

Lastly we need better organization and we need to let the city know, in an organized,tangible fashion, that we mean business. I would propose we consider a petition drive to seek a moratorium on demolitions (except in emergency cases of real eminent danger) for 6 month period to bring all the sides back to the table to study the issue.

If that doesn't work? We, bypass the city council and city manger, and request Federal or State level Audits of just how those monies are being spent by the city on "blight abatement". Are Section 106 obligations of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended in [36 CFR PART 800.2 (d) (1&2)] & [36 CFR PART 800.2 (f) (3)] followed?

For those of you not familiar with what section 106 is, as part of the use of Community Development Block Grant Monies for demolition or rehabilitation, the city is required under federal law to have certain notifications as relates to section 106:

Ohio Historic Preservation Office for the Administration of Programs Using HUD Allocated Funds with Delegated Review Responsibilities Authorized Under 24 CFR Part 58

In the event the grantee plans any ground disturbance as part of a rehabilitation, new construction, site improvement, or other undertaking, the grantee will consult with the SHPO to determine whether the undertaking will affect an archaeological property eligible for or listed in the National Register. This shall not be interpreted to include a limited subset of ground-disturbing activities that are exempt from review, as described in Stipulation II.B.2.

Isn't Demolition is ground disturbance? Could a broad interpretation be that demolition of old houses may result in archaeological disturbance?

Now there is an exemption for buildings less that 50 years old under the exempt activities clause, that reads as follows:

If the grantee determines that an undertaking only involves buildings that are less than fifty years old, or if the undertaking includes only exempt activities (as defined by Stipulations II. B., II. C., and II. D), then the undertaking shall be deemed exempt from further review. Such undertakings will require no review under the terms of this agreement because these activities will generally not affect historic properties

This stipulation may include the demolition of buildings less than fifty years old, so long as the building has not previously been determined to be eligible for listing or listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The grantee will keep documentation of this decision to exempt specific undertakings in its files and compile a complete list of exempt undertakings annually, as required in Stipulation VIII
.

The big question in my mind is the city properly notifying SHPO relative to properties older than 50 years which would include almost all the properties on they typical demo list?

Does the city send notification to the SHPO (State Historic Preservation Officer), is that the ONLY obligation the city has? Does the SHPO have the authority to yank monies if the property is deemed over 50 years old and potentially historic? Do neighborhood groups have voice in this process? If so then perhaps we can use it to stop demolition of properties over 50 years old.

We need to start asking questions: especially after today's election.

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