The Knox Hill Neighborhood Association sent an email notice yesterday to Larry Harris, Urban Conservator for the City of Cincinnati and Sean Minihan who runs the Nuisance Board hearings, asking for a formal hearing for Section 106 review of a property at 1853 Knox Street and a suspension of Nuisance board hearings pending a determination by HUD on a viable section 106 review process. Numerous city officials and community group leaders were cc'd on this request.1853 Knox is a classic Italianate townhouse and the neighborhood asserts, a contributing historic structure.
"The property at 1853 Knox is a contributing structure to our Neighborhoods National and state Historic District Registry Nomination and the city feels its blighted and wants to bulldoze it? Incredible!" said Greg Drake, Knox Hill Board member.
Other Board members and residents also have indicated they are "fed up' with city officials.
The request the formal hearing so the neighborhood can present information to Mr Harris on why the property meets the definition of eligible for inclusion to historic registry. The property which was bought out of foreclosure by a real estate investment group was boarded by the city while in foreclosure, but that was escalated to a VBML order, condemn, and now Nuisance Hearing for demolition because of "blight abatement." The city is required by Federal law to conduct Section 106 Review on properties more than 50 years old that may be impacted by federal monies to determine if they may be historic eligible and what effect their demolition may have on surrounding properties. While properties may still be demoed, the city is required to look at other options such as stabilization or repairs. and if the neighborhood disagrees with the findings the State OHPO could issue an opinion.
The neighborhood however doesn't see the house as "blighted", they see it as "mothballed". The property is boarded and secure, there are no major structural issues and the neighborhood notes that it is not a "hot spot" with police runs. The neighborhood asserts that the property does not meet the definition of "blighted" but is merely and attempt by the city to "burn through' stimulus funds and lighten case loads for inspectors. In the email the group notes that they are stuck taking care of the vacant lots left behind , and because the city does not go to court to sue for demo cost, the lots sit for years until they hit a tax sale.
The group notes that the city gives no consideration to the historic retaining wall. "We have a complete stone retaining wall that runs that entire block. To demo the house will require the historic retaining wall be demoed as well , this effects the architectural integrity of the entire block not just one house" noted one group member.
The group sent a letter to the property owner yesterday asking for the owner to consider selling through the "Save not Raze' program in which the neighborhood markets the house for sale to someone who agrees to restore it to preservation standards and keep it single family. It hopes the owner agrees as several people are on the groups list looking for property in the neighborhood. Unlike many properties this one is not seriously in in arrears on property taxes. The property was purchased in 2007 for 3000.00 from a bank according to county auditor's records.
In the email to Harris and Minihan the group indicate it may pursue receivership of the property if necessary.
The group notes that it is Harris who is responsible for section 106 review not the Nuisance board and referred him to a opinion emails of Justin Cook, the history review manager for OHPO.
"More importantly, the Nuisance Control Board has no authority under the City's Programmatic Agreement with OHPO. Under the PA, a Preservation Professional employed by the City - currently Urban Conservator Larry Harris - is tasked with making all required findings on the City's behalf in the Section 106 process. Therefore, Mr. Harris needs to be the one who considers all comments provided by consulting parties and the public."
Cook also noted in his opinion letter to Ross Carlson at HUD on the Mike Cervay for the City of Cincinnati's response letter to HUD:
"Considering existing survey data and previous decisions regarding eligibility is helpful in this regard, but ultimately the City is responsible for evaluating each property that may be affected on a recurring basis as it may be affected by an undertaking"
In the neighborhood view that means site visits by Mr Harris and there is no indication that is taking place.
The group assets that Mr Harris is looking at outdated historic surveys and 'rubber stamping" the demolitions and it has to stop this practice. He is supposed to look at the properties on the list and that just isn't happening.
Mr Harris has a degree in architecture not historic preservation but meets the minimum criteria established by the State for responsibility under the Programmatic Agreement.
The group also notes it is impossible for community groups to pull together pertinent historic information in a 7 day period. For example Knox Hill has completed most of its architectural review to identify contributing historic structures and elements but is now in the time consuming process of doing the history research on these properties which often mean hours going through old city directories, Sanborn maps and Census data. " You cant do that in 7 days" noted one of the people working on the historic research committees for the district nomination, this is all volunteer work by members.
The group also took the bold step of asking Sean Minihan to suspend all Nuisance Board Hearings pending the completion of an approved process of section 106 review by HUD, noting that continuing to operate under the present process puts the city in danger of potential lawsuits from people whose property was demoed or are on the list and proper Section 106 review never took place. The group has also stated that they believe it is a governmental conflict of interest to have the Nuisance Board run by supervisors of the inspectors bringing the complaints before the hearing board and believes the council should appoint a nuisance board. The neighborhood group is considering asking the State Attorney Generals office for an opinion on the potential conflict of interest issue, but is waiting to see if the city council decides to take up the issue, which would require s changes to the municipal code.
The group believes there is 'zero chance' of that happenings but note ' We are on the record, do not blame us if someone sues you because you bulldozed their house and didn't follow federal guild lines and do a proper section 106 review."
The neighborhood is asking other neighborhood groups with houses on the list to ask for formal hearings and ask Sean Minihan to remove those properties from the nuisance hearing list pending the 106 review and if required, commentary by the state OHPO.
The list of properties is here: