Monday, January 25, 2010

Citizen complaint filed with HUD Regarding Cincinnati Demo Policy

In a formal citizen complain letter to HUD (Housing and Urban Development), the Knox Hill Neighborhood Association has formally requested HUD review the city of Cincinnati compliance with Section 106 Review of the Historic Preservation act. Section 106 review is required and a process for public input must be provided. The review takes place by the Urban Conservators Office. The city must conduct this review as a recipient of Federal Funds.

Any property older than 50 years old which Federal funds are used as part of a project or demolition must have this review to determine if the property is eligible or may be potentially eligible for Historic Registry Nomination. Knox Hill became concerned after several properties in and around its boundary were demoed over the summer. One of which may have been a Geo Barber design on Blain and another that could have been a contributing structure as part of the Neighborhoods planned Historic registry Nomination. Neither structure had serious structural issues. In the complain sent to HUD, the neighborhood raised those issues in a letter sent to HUD on January 19th:

Re: Cincinnati & Section 106 Review

Our neighborhood, Knox Hill, is currently preparing the documentation to seek Historic District Status. We have been greatly concerned about the number of properties in our boundaries slated for demolition that have no apparent structural issues that render them eligible for demolition. Our neighborhood experienced 3 demolitions during 2009 and at least two of those structures may have been contributing structures to our historic registry nomination.

For over a year, we have been seeking clarification of the City of Cincinnati’s Section 106 review process. We have contacted numerous city officials from City Building Inspections, Urban Conservators office and others attempting to get clarification on this issue. Specifically, what process the city has in place to seek Public or Interested Consulting Parties input on those properties either developed or demolished using federal funds. We have even contacted CPA (Cincinnati Preservation Association), whom we assumed might have consulting party status and they have not been able to obtain an answer for us either.

It has become evident to us that the City of Cincinnati has no process. We can find no notice of Public Hearings. We can find no evidence of correspondence to community groups to seek comment, nothing. The only “public comment” process the city has is for the actual Nuisance Board Hearing where determination of nuisance is made (after the eligibility under 106 apparently is already determined). This board is made up of City Employees whom are in supervisory position over the inspectors bringing the complaint. (Governmental Conflict of Interest?) and no one on this board has any specific qualifications, or status, concerning Section 106 Review Process.

There seems to be a pattern by city officials of ‘fast tracking’ property from VBML (Vacant Building Maintenance License) status to Nuisance/Demo status. Based on our review these properties do not appear to have issues that would require VBML status much less demolition, we have to question if Federal Tax Dollars are being spent wisely and properly without the apparent benefit of public input.

As we can not get an answer from City officials regarding Section 106 review process, and as the City may have demolished property without an avenue for public input or hearings on the matter, we formally request this be given Citizen Complaint status and ask HUD to determine if, in fact, the City of Cincinnati has a proper Section 106 Review process, and has proper record keeping of that process, as required under Federal law and previous and current Programatic Agreements with the State of Ohio Historic Preservation Office.

The complaint was escalated to HUD after the group initially contacted the Ohio Preservation Office who hold the Programatic Agreement with the city, who could also not confirm a proper process existed. The complaint to HUD will require a response from the city and documentation of a process. In the even the process is lacking by HUD, the agency could freeze federal funding to the City until a proper process is in place. The group hopes this action will trigger a review of ALL city condemned properties as the city appears to have no way of determining if Federal or Local funds will pay for a particular property when its declared a nuisance which essentially compels the property owner to demo the building. Since the city can't tell what "pot of money" the demo will be done under, all properties older than 50 yrs should have this 106 review." It would compel the Urban Conservators office to do cost analysis of stabilization vs demolition cost on those properties that may be eligible for listing. That analysis could shift city focus to greater stabilization efforts rather then demo and perhaps result in property being stabilized or put in receivership.

If HUD Determines the current process (or lack of) is inadequate, this would be huge step forward for the local preservation community which has been struggling with what appear to be senseless demolition of property with no apparent structural issues that could be restored. As one neighborhood resident stated: "It , at least, gives us some input in the process, which we do not have now, and it would make the city actually look a the cost of demo vs rehab."

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