Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is City Inspections trying to Silence me on City Demo policy,CDBG Funds and 106 Review? You decide.

Many of my regular readers may recall that last month I began a series of articles on the City of Cincinnati Demolition Policy, almost immediately after this series began, our local neighborhood inspector Mike Fhen “had a revelation” and bumped us up to a pre prosecution hearing, set for November 24th regarding a VBML the city issued to a prior owner in 2005. This hearing is at 9:30 , 4th floor at 705 Central Avenue, One Centennial Plaza, Cincinnati Ohio 45202

What was astounding about this is that as President of the Knox Hill Neighborhood Association, I routinely email and speak to Mike Fhen on problem properties in our neighborhood, in fact it was my research into a out of state, California LLC that finally provided the city with a good address to serve a problem property owner on my block after almost a year of city inspections spinning their wheels.

So is this just a Coincidence? Maybe, except the only records this inspector had made regarding our property which is in the public record indicates no issue: B200901371
3/18/2009 : Owner continues to restore front of building

3/30/2009: Working

It was only on 10/23/09 Right after I began my series on City Demo policy the following note appeared:

10/23/09: Working on repairs no permits, no VBML, or Wavier application recommend PPH

Quickly approved by his supervisor Mr Sean Minihan ( whom I have never had a conversation with). To put this action in perspective. Given the numerous emails I have sent to Mike Fhen, regarding problem properties in the neighborhood, one would assume that if this inspector had an issue he would have simply picked up a phone and called me or dropped me an email. Do I blame Mike Fhen, absolutely not! I think Mike Fhen is a good guy, with huge caseload and based on my communication with him I do not believe he is the kind of guy who would just "dump" a pre pros on me, especially since there is NO indication in any notes that he had an issue. For the record, I do not "blame' Mike Fhen.
The condition of the property when we bought it.

The condition now.

Apparently according to city inspections, representing the City of Cincinnati: We are just another “problem property owner?” Those of you who live next to a problem property KNOWS what a problem property looks like, this is not a problem property and is not a non-compliant one.

OR MAYBE, just maybe, have I ruffled some feathers in City Government? Is the "good ole boy" network in city government upset that I would dare question how they administer Federal Funds? Your Federal tax dollars? Maybe it was that request to the city planner on wanting notification about when properties were sent to her department from city inspections that are in my neighborhood, BEFORE they are reviewed and sent to the State Historic where they are reviewed under section 106 requirement for properties that may be eligible for Historic designation?
Or perhaps, it's the fact I find it interesting that the City Manager appoints the Historic Conservation Board that "should' if the Section 106 process review worked the way it should at local level, be issuing a recommendation regarding potential historic properties AFTER A PUBLIC HEARING, for movement to nuisance hearing and possible demo using CDBG funding WHICH 'could' be construed as a conflict of interest since the city manager is ultimately responsible for administration of those funds and he appoints the board who should be making that recommendation? Perhaps CERTAIN PEOPLE in the city are worried if I ask TOO MANY questions that the 1.1 Million dollars the city wants to spend on demolition next year could be held up or yanked or at the very LEAST, the city might be facing a Federal Audit from HUD regarding their policy and procedures for dealing with demolition and 106 review?

I don't know, but I find the timing VERY interesting?

Especially given the fact that not one property around us has had ANY improvement since we bought our house in November 2008, one has to wonder, how our home, being restored to the Secretary of the Interior Guidelines for Historic restoration is a “problem property” yet none of the other homes around us present an issue? In fact, ours is the first property to be Painted in 10 years in the neighborhood. Is our City inspection department wearing "blinders"? Are they REALLY doing their job? You decide.

This is the property next door to us, JUST 3 inches away I might add, it has falling asbestos siding on the east wall Holes in the south wall , no gutter or downspouts(pictured here). By the way, this property does have rental permit and is rented out for 650.00 a month! The grass was not cut at all this year.

The property behind us, has visible holes in the roof, a collapsing chimney, falling gutters windows ready to fall out because they haven’t been caulked in 20 years and a dangerous front porch, Oh and its been vacant since 2004! Neighbors have had to cut the grass because the city can't seem to get out there. Funny they couldn't See the 6 foot weeds, or obvious code violations, when they were demolishing the house next to it August and several people from city inspections were on site?

Across the street from us stands a house vacant since 2002 and turned into the city in 2005 as open vacant, the grass has been cut by concerned neighbors. Note the flashing that flaps in the wind and the condition of the roof.It's open "Again" yet no VBML has been issued?

There even is a house down the street that had a serious fire months ago, yet the city hasn't even demoed it, even though it REALLY HAS structural problem, is open and represents a clear safety danger to neighborhood children who might venture into it. This would be a productive use of emergency demolition funds if anyone at the city reads this.

I could go on and on. I have a file, as president of the Knox hill Neighborhood Association, on dozens of houses in our neighborhood that look just like the ones you see above. AND I keep very good records and copies of all emails sent to city officials.

It is obvious to me, what is going on. Is it to you?

As taxpayer perhaps you are concerned? You should be, and you should ask yourself WHY the city wants to drive people away, people like us, who are willing to come into neighborhoods that the city certainly has written off, buy property that no one else wants to buy(except maybe a slumlord) and are willing to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in turning a neighborhood around. It is ironic, that I have given tours to members of several community organizations, people from Cincinnati Preservation Association, and block club leaders who seem to use our house as a prime example of what GOOD development should look like and how our efforts not only through our own historic restoration, but as community leaders who set up a neighborhood organization and crime watch will ultimately turn the neighborhood around, raise property values back and make this area a productive contributor to the county and city property tax roles.

Would city officials like to see these homes bulldozed? Eliminated from the tax roles so your taxes will rise and you will find yourself voting on more and more levies every election because our tax base is shrinking? Would the city RATHER spent a1.1 million Dollars on Demo next year rather than spend that money on stabilization?

Is our 1871 Second Empire Cottage and eyesore? A problem property? OR, are city officials worried about people moving into Cincinnati from out of state? Who come from cities where city governments follow proper procedure, do their job in an efficient manner and the "good ole boy" government no longer exists? I do not know. I will let you decide. So if you have a problem property next door or in your neighborhood ask yourself how you would feel if that property looked like OUR property and if want to, ask you own city inspector why your problem property doesn't look like our house. Feel free to do so.

IN FACT, if you are basically outraged by this, please feel free to communicate your outrage to inspection supervisor Mr. SEAN MINIHAM or Mr. ED CUNNINHAM phone 513-352-1909 , or your illustrious city manger MILTON DOHONEY or call at 513-352-3243. Remember to reference case number B200901371 and if you could cc me on your email at since your communication to city officials should be placed in the case record, it it "magically" doesn't appear I will have a copy. We want to keep everyone at city inspections "honest".

You might want to call you favorite city councilman and ask them why city inspections is trying to drive people AWAY from investing in Cincinnati? Perhaps the city council need to review city policy?Maybe the council needs to start asking some hard questions about just how monies are spent in this city? I certainly have an opinion about that, don't you?

Those of you who know me, know one thing about me, NOT answering my questions, just makes me dig deeper! Try to put pressure on me to shut up? Doesn't work!

I've stood up for historic preservation and neighborhoods before, I've dealt with issues concerning CDBG funds, demo policies, even the Americans with Disabilities Act. Along the way some of those people, who were misusing their power, no longer have their job, some had had to testify before grand juries, some have had to face State and Federal audits. I have always maintained that government works for us as taxpayers and as their employer we have the right to ask questions.

I am a historic Preservationist. I appreciate historic architecture, I appreciate neighborhoods, I see the potential in Cincinnati and I recognize that city government has to change the way they do business. We as taxpayers have the right to expect better.

What we have done with our own property demonstrates our resolve to make not only our neighborhood but Cincinnati a better place to live. You should ask yourself? ARE OUR GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS DOING THE SAME?

To the "Good ole Boy" network? I am NOT that easily intimidated!

Tomorrow: The loophole in the VBML ordinance that could cost the city millions of dollars!

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