Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Historic Demolitions: City Preservation Planning "rubber stamping" demos, under section 106?

Two VERY IMPORTNANT things you should know.

The City of Cincinnati has thousands of properties ( 91 pages of properties) on its keep vacant or condemn list:

The city in its 2010 budget wants to spend $1,149,000. in CDBG to DEMOLISH houses in Cincinnati. OVER MILLION DOLLARS of your federal tax dollars!

When you look at your paycheck and you wonder what your Federal tax Dollars are being used for, here is your answer. The big question is, "is the city spending this money in a responsible manner?" By comparison only 249,000 is being spend on what is known as "capital" which would be non demo uses , such as repair.

In order for the City of Cincinnati to use CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) monies there is a process requirement called 106 review. It requires that before a property can be set for a"Nuisance Hearing" to determine if it should be demolished (using CDBG funds) it must first be reviewed by the City Historic Conservation to determine if the property in question has redeeming Historic value and might be eligible for listing on the National Registry as historic.

If the property is determined to have redeeming historic value, in other words it might be eligible for listing on the historic registry then it is ineligible for CDBG funds without a review under section 106 in which public input would be required. Note this must take place BEFORE the actual nuisance hearing. If the property was determined to have historic significance or value then federal dollars may not be used for demolition unless it can be determined that demolition is the only option.

So the question is? Are proper protocols being followed? Is the city planner and the Historic Commission "really reviewing' these properties and determining that they have No Historic value and are ineligible to be considered for listing on the National Registry? Or are they being "rubber stamped" and sent on? You decide.
1611 Waverly is located in the South Fairmount Neighborhood, in fact it is just outside our Knox Hill Neighborhood Boundaries , yet is part of our own "overlay plan" of adjacent areas we monitor. It is our intention to pursue Historic Registy status for our neighborhood in 2010 and in fact several property owner will seek individual national registry status for their homes.

1611 Waverly is what is known as a Single Italianate Brick Detached Townhouse. This particular example has certain "high style" features not typically found on all Brick Townhouses. For example there is elaborate limestone detailing over the window hoods and there is a nicely detailed top cornice held up with 5 brackets with raised panel detail between them. The house also appears to have 'most' of its original 2 over 2 windows that could be restored. According to the Auditors site this property was built in 1865!

As a historic restoration Consultant with over 20 years experience in historic restoration work, in my professional opinion this house is worthy of restoration. As someone who has owned several landmarked properties, written Historic registry nomination for properties and neighborhoods, served on the Board of Directors for several historic registered neighborhoods, in my professional opinion this property is eligible for listing on the National Registry based on the fact that it is a essentially intact example of Italianate Townhouse Architecture with high style features. While I have not taken the time to research the ownership of this property since it was built, given its location, and the fact that most of the homes in this area were built as weekend cottages for wealthy industrialists I have no doubt, were we to research the history of this home that some person or persons "significant" in early Cincinnati likely owned this home.

I have looked at this particular house, based on my professional experience, being familiar with historic structures, I can find NO reason why this property would be unsafe , I find NO significant impediments structurally that would prevent it's restoration.

I might add that this is not 'just' my opinion. I forwarded photographs of this home to several historic preservation experts from across the country, who all came to the same conclusion that I did, this house is worthy of listing on the national or local historic registry.

I also contacted several colleagues of mine who are Historic Preservation officers and planners in several cities. I asked them if:

1.) They felt the property was eligible for registry listing?

2.) If they would recommend a section 106 review and public comment as to its value? In both cases ALL the Preservation Officers I contacted said that YES the property in question was eligible and that a 106 review would be appropriate and REQUIRED.

It is interesting to note that some of the Preservation Officers and planners I spoke to were astounded that a city would EVEN consider demolition for such a property and in no case would they personally recommend that a city "waste' federal dollars demolishing a house that clearly should be restored.

1611 Waverly may be the "poster child" for historic endangered properties" but it is just the TIP of the iceberg, upon review of recent decision from nuisance hearing there are DOZENS of properties declared nuisances in 2009, that are clearly eligible for Historic listing,and should clearly have a Section 106 review. So either local government is not doing its job OR the State is being lax on thier part.
So if you are concerned about the Historic Architecture in Cincinnati. If you are tired of your tax dollars being wasted and squandered by a city government with NO CLUE about the value of historic properties what can you do?

COMPLAIN, Complain LOUDLY, contact your city officials: Contact Caroline Kellam, senior city planner for Cincinnati at (513) 352-4842 . Contact the Historic Conservation Board members who, by the way, are appointed by the CITY MANAGER, Milton Dohoney at or call at 513-352-3243 . You can contact Ed Cunningham, the division manager of property maintenance phone 513-352-1909 .

You may have questions like? "How do you document that a property is likely ineligible for listing and notify the state as such"? Do you notify affected nearby property owners and neighborhood groups that a property in their area is being considered for demo and registry eligibility is under review"? " What professional qualifications, or certifications do city building inspectors have at determining 'structural issues?" "Is there a competitive bidding process for demo contractors on demo jobs under 25,000.00"?"

If you have questions at the state level about how Cincinnati spends it CDBG funds (your federal tax dollars) and complies with state requirements you can direct your concerns to the Ohio Preservation Office Ohio Historic Preservation Office 567 East Hudson Street,Columbus, OH 43211-1030 Resource Protection and Review staff at (614) 298-2000.

And if after all the above is done and you still have questions you can contact HUD who administers the CDBG funding at the federal level: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development451 7th Street S.W., Washington, DC 20410Telephone: (202) 708-1112

Just Remember, there are 91 pages of vacant and condemned properties and the city wants to spend over ONE MILLION DOLLARS of your federal tax dollars on demolition, leaving vacant lots that will contribute nothing to the county taxbase.

If you want Cincinnati to become Detroit then do nothing, If you want to save this city then get involved!


PML said...

Paul- I am in the process of buying one of these homes on the vacant condem list. It is listed under the keep the building vacant, what does that mean for me?

Paul Wilham said...

Well it depends? Usually what happens is that once you close you will get a nasty letter from the city, telling you that your home is unfit for habitation and you need to pay 900.00 bucks for VBML and puichase a large liability policy, or else!

What they don't tell you is that since the city actually doesn't file a lien for unpaid prior VBML fees it doesn't show up on title search and as such based on a variety of state and federal consumer proitection and federal housing laws, isn't worth the paper it's written on because since the city doesnt record the VBML non payment and seek judgement they really have any ability to enforce the VBML.

But they will try to "bully you". Chances are if you are normal person , who is really fixing up the property they will leave you alone.

The whole VBML has so many legal loopholes you would drive a city bulldozer through it.

Since the city so unevenly applies the enforcement of VBML I have often thought it's only a matter of time before some of the few people who actualy have been bullied into paying , hire an attorney, file a class action and sue the city for damages based on arbitray and discriminatory enforcement.

That will likely cost the city and we the taxpayers, millions of dollars. But then maybe they wont have money to bulldoze anything.