Friday, November 13, 2009

INVESTIGATION: City wants to Bulldoze property they spent your taxdollars to save!

292 McGregor is different among the mostly Brick Queen Anne style homes on the block. But it may be the 'poster child" for what is wrong with city government.

A nearby neighbor to the house , Wes, who is a recent historic preservation graduate who is restoring the historic John Peaslee house just down the street notes:

"Though it doesn't have the amazing towers that many on the street do, it far and away has some of the nicest surfaces and details(paneled bays, patterned shingles, Queen Anne Sash, triple stepped windows, etc.) of any house in the entire neighborhood. With all of the decorative shingle work, and the nice exterior paneling, I don't think people in the neighborhood understand the importance of this particular property (a few neighbors have been heard to say, "knock it down*")." So here we go again, a fine historic home with very few defects getting posted for demo again.

The indifference may be the reason the city could actually get away with it. The architecturally rich area is going through a transition back to the once upscale neighborhood it was. But it is a neighborhood in transition.

John Shiflet, noted Victorian Architecture expert, and Historic Preservationist who is the moderator of the online VICARR (Victorian Architectural Review) a group composed of mostly architects, Historic Restoration consultants, Historic Preservationists and people who are restoring significant Victorian Homes, was in Cincinnati this summer touring several areas of Cincinnati, including this particular neighborhood. In his opinion:

“292 McGregor, although not in pristine condition, nonetheless is an unaltered excellent example of the fine homes built along McGregor Avenue during the 1880's into the 1890's. It is absolutely a contributing structure for any potential historic district and its loss would have a significant impact. This is not a working class neighborhood-most of the homeowners were prominent local businesspeople and professionals. The Queen Anne style house nearby Mcgregor was originally the home of John Peaslee, prominent educator and the youngest superintendent of Cincinnati schools ever. Across the street from 292 McGregor is the home of a prominent local lawyer who was involved with the Duckworth Club and democratic politics in the early 1900's.. Many of the faded but grand homes along McGregor have been altered with substitute siding and windows; however, based on my long years of involvement with historic preservation, the degree of integrity is sufficient to create a local national register historic district . In any event this house is too architecturally significant to abandon to the bulldozer.”

The REAL indifference however seems to be the City of Cincinnati with YOUR tax dollars. The city BOUGHT this house in 2000 in an effort to save it. As with many good intentioned ideas the city didn’t maintain it and in 2004 the home was featured as “blight of the week on city beat:

In 2007 according to city records, the city council authorized the city manager, Milton R. Dohoney, to sell the property to Teresa Debman without competitive bidding for ONE DOLLAR! However there was a restrictive clause in the sale agreement that continues forward with the deed.

Conveyance of the property shall be subject to the right of the city to re-enter the property.

The owner was given 18 months to make the repairs and in the event she did not the city could re-enter the property and demand return of it refunding her one dollar purchase price. There was never a follow up by the city manager to see if the property was rehabed.

According to the city records Ms Debman indicted she intended to restore the property and operate it as a daycare. However, according to residents in the neighborhood she has done NO WORK to the property since she acquired it.

Now the city building inspections managed by Ed Cunningham, has the property set for a nuisance hearing which would result in its demolition. What is highly suspicious about this is that the city inspections would be using Community Development Block Grant funding (CDBG) which would require this property, which the city apparently deemed historic enough in 2000 to buy, to have what is known as a SECTION 106 historic review. Under Federal HUD guidelines for CDBG funding the city is PHOHIBITED from using Federal monies for demolition of a house older than 50 years that could be eligible for Historic Registry eligibility, without this formal review taking place. It appears that city planning, on receipt of this house for the nuisance list simply “rubber stamped’ this house has having no significant architectural value or not eligible for historic registry status. I an find NO RECORD of city planning and the historic Conservation board holding any public hearings, or request for public comment on 292 McGregor!

I was recently cc’d on an email from Margo Warmiski at Cincinnati Preservation Association to one of the residents trying to organize area residents to save the property in which she indicated the following:

"But here’s the larger issue. When the City’s inventory update of Mt. Auburn was done in 2002, a district was recommended along Highland Ave. but didn’t include McGregor because of integrity issues with some of the buildings. I think this boundary should be reevaluated and a larger area considered for nomination. We need the Ohio Historic Preservation Office’s take on whether or not this area would be eligible as a district."

Residents , in an effort to save the house from demolition are now completing a historic survey form and forwarding to the State of Ohio Preservation Office for emergency review in an effort to stop possible demolition.

So lets recap:
We have neighborhood with significant historic restoration and preservation efforts ongoing. The houses in the immediate area were all once owned by prominent people in Cincinnati history. The McGregor Park Neighborhood could probably qualify on its own asa National Historic District. Property values are going UP not down. The city council clearly thought the property was worth saving in 2000 when they authorized the use of your tax dollars to purchase it at taxsale from the county. They spent years trying to market it for sale. They sold it for a dollar and have the ability to take it back right now and resell it to someone who really will fix it up.

City Inspections, on the other hand, wants to declare it a nuisance and spend 10-15,000 of your Federal tax dollars to bulldoze it, which “may” at this point, be illegal since they appear to not have followed the federal guidelines under section 106 review.

So one part of the “GOOD OLE BOY" city government doesn’t know what the other part of the 'GOOD OLE BOY' city government did in the first place and wants to now waste your federal tax dollars (possibly illegally) to bulldoze a house that the majority of EXPERTS agree is historic and worthy of saving. The City Council, on the other hand , have been left in the dark!

Sound confusing? Not really. What needs to happen is that our city council should stop this!

They have the ability RIGHT NOW to take back the property, which they can and simply sell it to someone who has the means to restore it and prevent city inspections from wasting 15 grand in demolition.

More Importantly they need to INVESTIGATE this boondoggle, so it doesn't happen again and ask some serious questions of Milton Dohoney city manger and Edward Cunningham who supervises building inspections. about the way their agencies are run

1.) Why did the city manager not follow up on the progress of this property.

2.) When on 6/16/2008: when the property was turned in for high weeds and the record notes:

Please send a litter officer to contact the owners about the tall weeds/grass on the privately owned property at 292 McGregor Ave ., "This property was deeded to a private owner approximately two years ago. Please remove the property address from your list as a city owner property."/Tall grass/ weeds .
WHY did that NOT trigger a review by the city manager?

3.) Why is it that city inspection on 6/12/2008 ordered it condemned and did not bother to check out the fact the city sold it and the city manager could get it back?

4.) Who in City Planning or Historic Conservation, "rubber stamped" this property stating it was not eligible as potentially historic and sent it on?

5) Why is Building and Inspection services using federal CDBG funds for demo without following the federally mandated guidelines for section 106 review of potentially eligible historic properties over 50 years old, and have they, in the past, in violation of federal law, actually demolished property that should have been eligible under section 106? Might city inspections have opened the city up to potential lawsiuts to compensate property owners whose homes were demoed illegally? More importantly could 'circumventing' section 106 guidlines cause the city to have to repay those federal monies, face a federal audit and potentially cause the loss of the 1.1 million in Federal CDBG finds, the city wants for demolition in 2010?

Members of the new city council? You have some SERIOUS questions that need to be answered AND you need to do it BEFORE some State or Federal agency comes knocking at your door with a subpoena!

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