Friday, January 8, 2010

Neighborhood Group Seeks official "clarification" of Section 106 process

The Knox Hill Neighborhood Association sent a formal request via email to Ed Cunningham, of city building inspections, Paula-Boggs Muething of city legal and the city managers office requesting the documentation of how the Section 106 review was done on the property at 1752 Fairmount.
The property was on the Nuisance Board hearing list for December. The simple 2 story frame 'I' house as 1752 Fairmount is one of only 4 pre civil war properties in the neighborhood possibly dating to around 1845-1850.

The Knox Hill Neighborhood Association is in the process of research to obtain Historic District status for the Knox Hill Neighborhood which sits on the border of North and South Fairmount. As part of the groups architectural survey it performed and after some consultation with experts it appears the House at 1752 Fairmount, was pre civil war in construction. Most homes in the area date from 1868-1885.

This was one of the "homestead' houses that sat up here when this are was mostly farms. The Baptist Seminary (1850-1862) was under construction down the street, which later became the Schuetzen Verein (1866-1888) an exclusive German social club and shooting range that spurred the development of Knox Hill, originally as weekend cottages and then later as a German Enclave of homes owned moistly by German shopkeepers and businessmen that remained relatively intact as community up through the 1940's.

The property is clearly a significant part of the early history of the community and as such it's a contributing structure. As one nearby resident put it, "It is not the kind of house you tear down."

In fact the neighborhood association forwarded notification that the property was potentially historically significant to Ed Cunningham at city inspections and was a key part of the neighborhoods Historic District Nomination and other alternatives should be explored.

Despite that, the city declared the house a nuisance and ordered it demolished. " Another rubber stamp" decision by the city.

In the communication with the city the neighborhoods response was: "This is not acceptable".

The City of Cincinnati is mandated under Federal law to conduct a proper Section 106 review of any property older than 50 years that may be a contributing structure or may be eligible for listing as historic when Federal funds (CDBG) are used for demolition. This review is not 'optional' nor can it be done behind closed doors without public input .

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires the city first consider alternatives that would avoid or minimize any adverse effect of demolition. The process should involve an analysis of objective cost estimates for rehabilitation that would allow the house to meet local code and comparing the estimates with demolition costs.

In the communication with city officials the group has demanded to see that documentation and the 'estimates' used in comparisons.

As one resident put it: "The law says they have to do this, it is obvious to us they didn't and they haven't been doing this on the properties that have been going on the nuisance list for years and its time it was stopped. Maybe if the Federal Government has to yank a million plus dollars away from the city it will get the attention of the Mayor and Council about the way things are being done. Maybe they will figure out we are not going to take this anymore and we want to bring this neighborhood back not have it torn down".

In the communication the group put the city on notice that they expected a response, with documentation, or they would approach the State Preservation Office about withholding federal funds used for demolition by the city much like Preservationists did in Mansfield Ohio where the city had 1.6 million dollars put on hold recently because that city was not following proper procedures on community input,
In the request:

"If we have to seek formal review by the state, regarding how the city conducts Section 106 review, and it's Programatic Agreement, then we are prepared to do that. We would rather not see the City of Cincinnati lose its Federal Funding, but we will not stand by and allow the "blight=bulldozer" mentality of your department destroy the historic fabric of our neighborhood."

The neighborhood has several home sitting on the demo list and if the city cannot produce proper documentation that a proper review was done on 1752 Fairmount, the group plans to go to the city council and mayor, or a court, if necessary, and seek a reversal of the orders against those properties as well, until proper 106 review can be conducted. It is the organizations contention that most homes on the the list are restorable and should not be demoed.

"We can't bring back the historic property the city has senselessly demoed, but we may be able to stop future demolitions". said Greg Drake, association board member. "City inspections is not 'helping' us, they are hurting our neighborhood with VBML and nuisance orders which make it difficult for the association to find preservation minded buyers for these properties. We need inspectors to be writing repair orders, and doing the necessary follow ups, not the quick fix of VBML and nuisance orders. Nobody wants to buy a house and deal with the mountain of red tape the city is creating. "

The group believes that monies, an estimated 10-15000, that would be spent on demolition, should be spent on stabilization instead or that the owner be allowed to sell the house with association help to a buyer who would commit to restore it.

The association is very concerned about the "fast tracking" of homes in the neighborhood, many of which when they head into foreclosure are immediately slapped with VBML order, closely followed by nuisance orders. The trend is disturbing. "If they are not conduction proper 106 review before the house is going to Nuisance Hearing then we really don't know if its economically viable to save it, do we?"

You wouldn't see that happen in Mt Adams or Betts Longworth but it happens in economically disadvantaged neighborhood throughout Cincinnati. Many contend city inspections is engaging in Governmental "Redlining" of poorer neighborhoods which do not have a chance to turnaround.

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