Monday, September 13, 2010

Neighborhood seeks investigation into Cincinnati Demolition policies and stimulus spending

The recent demolition of 1857 Knox may have created more problems than it solved according to residents of Knox Hill. The property at 1857 Knox sat on a hillside lot that at its highest point was some 20 feet above the street level below it and residents are concerned that the lot now without its retaining wall may create erosion problems that will spill into the neighborhood. The Neighbors are also concerned about the damage that may have been done to adjacent properties by the shoddy work of the out-of- town contractor selected by the city.

According to one neighbor across the street from the demo, “I this is helping us, I cant understand how”.

At issue is; was the same procedures followed by the contractor that a private property owners performing the same task would be required to do. According to one Knox Hill Neighborhood Association board member, “If a private property owner were pulling a permit on a site like this with a high retaining wall the city would have asked for engineering reports and most certainly would have required the reconstruction of the retaining wall”.
The removal of the side wall seriously undermines the integrity of the historic stairs at 1861 Knox and will add more cost to the homes restoration

Another serious issue is the fact the contractor demoed the retaining wall of the side yard at 1861 Knox in order to do the demolition. Mr. Cunningham of city inspection in response to a query from the neighborhood stated that there were “issues” with the historic retaining wall, which the neighborhood (That was already investigating if monies could be raised to restore the historic retaining wall in the 1800 block) does not dispute, but wonders how the city can justify the expenditure of federal funds on the demolition on a unrelated , separately owned property when the “bid’ was for a specific address. That argues the neighborhood may violate federal law and represent an abuse of NSP funds.

That is a question the group plans to not only ask the city council, but also the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which allocated the federal monies the city uses for demolition. The group believed the city is playing fast and loose with its accounting and its general policies. It is the neighborhoods position that demolition of a property without a city plan to acquire it, maintain it or develop it is not the purpose of the stimulus funding.

While KHNA admits 1857 Knox in its state this spring it wasn't pretty, It was properly mothballed and the owner, who lives on the block in another house,  might have worked with KHNA to find a restoration minded buyer.
KHNA contends, that regardless of what the South Fairmount Community Council wants the city to do, there is a fiscal responsibility of the city to do the right thing and not just demo for the sake of demo. Knox Hill was never consulted about how stimulus finds were to be spent and many people have raised issues about if the South Fairmont Community Council really “represents’ the needs of the neighborhoods or just its board members. Knox Hill is working on a national historic registry nomination for the neighborhoods and notes the city has demoed several structures that may have been contributing to that nomination in recent years. In 2009 the city demoed over 160 structures and a disproportionate number were in South Fairmount. Many residents feel the city is engaging in "Governmental Redlining" of poorer Urban neighborhoods with an aggressive VBML and demo policy, noting its is almost impossible for resident who own their homes to get home loans or homeowners insurance at reasonable rates because of the high number of city “condemned’ properties in the neighborhood. 

Homes like 1861 Knox which exhibit no major structural issues sit on a condemn list not because of structural issues but problems with prior owners. KHNA is working on finding a buyer for this house  so the out of state owner can avoid a receivership filing by KHNA

Many have questioned the motives of demolition of the hillside sites, which have great views and could be prime development sites. KHNA has to ask the obvious question of is there a ‘hidden agenda’ here because so many structures that have no serious structural issues are being demoed.
KNNA contend the stable retaining wall at 1857 should have been left and its improper removal seriously compromises the house next door.

The more serious issue aside from the loss of the historic retaining wall is that the work performed by the contractor may have caused damage to adjacent property. The contractor removed section of the retaining wall for the steps at 1861 Knox, which KHNA is working with the property owner to find a preservation minded buyer for rather than proceed with the neighborhoods receivership petition. Of greater concern also is, did the contractor create a structural crack that could impact 1855 Knox which has a rare servants tunnel from the street to the basement and is presently on the market for sale.

As one resident put it “ this isn’t abating anything if you are damaging other properties and creating more problems”.

Knox Hill is seeking planning on seeking the opinion of a structural engineer of the potential damage caused by the contractor. KHNA also may contact the Hillside Trust about the issue and today forwarded its concerns to the Department of Justice to see if the city may have “mishandled” its stimulus funds by the way this demoed was handled and the fact the city has no redevelopment plan in place for the site. Ultimately the group wants a new retaining wall on the site.

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