Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Preservationists appear to be "shut out" of Section 106 review process.

Anytime a City Government uses Federal funds to demolish or conduct a project that involves historic or "potentially historic property", that city is supposed to conduct a Section 106 Review. Essentially Section 106 Review requires that the city conduct a review of properties greater than 50 years old that are in a historic district, or those properties that may be eligible for inclusion in a historic district or may be individually eligible for historic status.

Historic registry status can be based on several criteria, but essentially it is generally based on a buildings architecture, say a famous architect, a particularly rare example of a rarely seen style (say a Swiss Chalet or Chatuesque styles) in a region, a house may also be significant because a famous individual owned or lived there or it may be because it is part of a collection of houses that represents a particular time in history or it was part of a specific community history that contributes to the history of a region or a city.

So the reasons a property may be historic can be quite varied and often not readily apparent to untrained, civil servants who may be in a position as part of a project to determine its fate. When Federal monies are used , our federal government requires that that city conduct a Section 106 Review, to seek input from people with a specific interest and/or knowledge, such as local preservation groups, neighborhood and community organizations and specific individuals that may be directly involved in preservation issues or who are 'stakeholders' in the project. Cities "generally' take this responsibility seriously and in most municipalities there is notification to the preservation community and neighborhood groups, well in advance, to give those groups sufficient time to conduct any research and make sure that property is not potentially historic.

Some sort of public meeting is generally held usually at the local Historic Conservation office level, or, as part of a Zoning and Planning Commission in which community input is gathered about a project and the Preservation Planner can evaluate if a property is historic or potentially historic and what the impact of the project (in Cincinnati's case Demo) would be on the community and other historic buildings around it. As a rule the last thing most cities want to do is demolish it's history. In fact, in the case of road widening or new road construction process, a historic property might be moved.

As President of the Knox Hill Neighborhood Association you would think I would "know" about these hearings and when I began to see potentially historic contributing structures being demolished in our neighborhood I asked about the process. I asked CPA ( Cincinnati Preservation Association) about it and they had been trying to find out themselves just how the process worked.

(Possible Barber pattern Book Inspired House on Blaine St in Knox hill Neighborhood was demolished this summer with no neighborhood input. In addition to its intact Porch Work this house has a remarkably intact interior with many historic features)

Because our neighborhood is considering application for Historic District status in the near future, I became concerned about all the property within our boundaries that had been declared a "nuisance", meaning it was headed for demo. I sent an email on November 12, 2009 to Ed Cunningham Director of Inspection Services, who through their Nuisance Hearing Board had declared several properties in our boundaries a nuisance, for copies of their section 106 review. His response:

We do not have records of a 106 review on these properties. These properties are not eligible for listing. Any documents or review materials would be with the Urban Conservator's office. You are welcome to see our records. Before we hold a public nuisance hearing we send the building to the Urban Conservator's office for review. All we get back is a determination of "listed" local and or national, "eligible for listing" and "not eligible".

I, of course, had already sent an email to the Urban Conservators office asking about the hearing process and I received no response.

Why? Because there is no process, no public hearing, no formal request for comment, NOTHING! I looked at the city website for any record of any kind of public hearings held by either the Urban Conservators office or even City Planning on section 106 review. I looked at minutes from the Conservation Board Hearings, nothing, no votes by them on anything or any record of any kind of public hearing being held in which the public, neighborhood groups, CPA, or concerned individuals have ANY opportunity to present any facts for consideration on any property, NONE!

I sent the email to Caroline Kellam who was in City planning at the time on November 4th requesting that our organization be notified about the Nuisance Hearings, since we were planning on Registry nominations and there was apparently no Section 106 Review hearings taking place, and stated that we wanted, as a neighborhood organization ,to be informed of any property that might potentially impact our Registry Nomination:

Here is part of the Interdepartmental "confusion" that went on regarding a FORMAL request for notification to Caroline Kellam, regarding 106 review that, Interpreted by the city as notification of the Nuisance hearing (long after the real determination has already been made, because there are no Section 106 Review hearings)

From: McQueary, Brandy Sent: Monday, December 07, 2009 3:14 PMTo: Taylor, Al; Fehn, MikeSubject: FW: Notifications on recommendations on Section 106(CDBG)
Hi Al and Mike,

I am supposed to respond to the below email from Paul Wilham. I wanted to double check in regards to the sentence in red below, before responding. Do we add organizations to the Notice list? I was under the impression that the Community Council is given notice of each demo in the community. Thanks!


("Effective immediately, we would request notification of any and all properties within our boundaries or the South Fairmount area that are forwarded to your department by city inspections to be slated for nuisance declaration hearings.")

So the decision on whether or not a property is deemed a "potentially historic' or contributing is done in a vacuum by some city "Conservator" who may, or may not, have a degree in Historic Preservation, any training in Historic Preservation, or any real familiarity with their obligation under Section 106 Review and the Agreement of Understanding that the city operates with the Ohio Preservation office under regarding Section 106.

The decision of if a property is "historic' or not is made long before the public has any chance for any public impute at the City Nuisance Hearing. A hearing which I had to threaten to file a complaint, to be given notice of because the city policy was to ONLY notify community councils which often have little interest in preservation issues.

If you are concerned about historic property and you are not the Community Council, the ONLY way you have to know if a potentially historic property is being demoed is at the Nuisance Hearing which you would have to read the public notices in the paper to find, because it has been city policy to ONLY notify the Community Councils!

It should be noted that the Nuisance Hearing Board is made up of mostly city employees some of whom are supervisory to City Building Inspectors (Conflict of Interest?) that request the nuisance/demo in the first place. NO ONE on the Nuisance Hearing Board has any background in Preservation, or, would have the qualifications to consider or interpret the information presented to them on a property's potential historic contribution or eligibility, based on its architecture or history.

In short, Cincinnati's Historic Buildings, and potentially historic buildings have ZERO chance in this city. The Section 106 Review is NOT being followed as required by Federal law.

Our History is being demolished based on "closed door" decisions made in a vacuum by city employees with no qualifications to make those decisions and with NO PUBLIC INPUT!

I learned late last night that an email has been sent from Justin Cook, the History Review Manager, Resource Protection and Review of the Ohio Historic Preservation Office to Larry Harris of the City of Cincinnati regarding the "Programatic review" of 292 McGregor, under section 106 for which demolition would eventually take place using Federal (CDBG) Funds.

It will be interesting to hear the city "response" about how they conducted that 106 Review. Because, based on my experience, and my own documented correspondence with various city employees and officials, there is no REAL Review and 292 McGregor is not the first property to not be properly reviewed. In FACT HUNDREDS of properties 'may" have been demoed, using Federal Dollars, that were likely contributing historic structures and it was ALL done without any participation or input by the Preservation Community. This MUST Stop!

(512 Prospect Place in Avondale , is one of the latest Potential Historic structures now on the demo list . Who in the City could not figure out this is a contributing historic structure that could be individually eligible for listing on the national registry?)


CityKin said...

Paul, The Urban Conservator's office has been decimated, and Caroline Kellam is the only qualified person left on staff. 20 years ago that office had 5 staff, and they were active making inventories and establishing new districts. Budget cuts and Council priority have left them overworked and unable to respond to citizens effectively.

Paul Wilham said...

I think the city is about to figure out why those city positions are important given the amount of Federal monies they get that are being spent on demolition (1.1 mill earmarked for 2010) The city of Mansfield just got slapped down by the state and Cincy may be next.