My point? We can save these buildings. It just takes a different "mindset" than we currently have. Do you think for one moment that several of the "nuisance" buildings in Knox Hill would be standing if we had not filed a federal HUD Complaint? The Vacant building report for the council references Knox Hill and our complaint. Now, while I think the report doesn't go far enough in recommendations, (we still have a VBML), the fact is had we not complained ,we wouldn't be talking about, or addressing, issues like section 106 review now in Cincinnati,and people wouldn't be calling for new Urban Conservator.
While in Cincinnati , I might be called a preservation "activist', in most cities I'm just a normal old house person who cares about his neighborhood and old houses. In fact when it comes to preservation I might be considered a moderate because I actually understand that 'some' buildings have to come down. BUT, only as last resort. But of those of you who say I am too harsh when it comes to these issues? Has your approach saved any thing? I know I am a pain to the city, and yes they could attempt to retaliate and 'make an example of me'. However they also know that I have no problem filing a federal court case and asking a federal judge to determine if the VBML amounts to 'governmental redlining' of economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and restricts availability of housing opportunity. I think they know I would have no problem seeking out owners of property that was demoed using federal funds with no proper section 106 review and helping them organize a class action against the city to seek punitive damages for the illegal taking of property. They know they are not "out of the woods" on the HUD and the NSP funds being used for demo with no real section 106 review process in place. Look we all HAVE ammunition if we need to use it, city officials have played fast and loose with rules and ordinances for years and the documentation is all there.
|Other cities save buildings like this. Why can't we?|
Let me explain the differences in approach with this Endangered property. This building was on the news in Indianapolis one day (years ago). A car accident at the intersection sent a car careening into this corner Italianate storefront building at 16th and College in the Old Northside. The building had been vacant for years.
Now in Cincinnati, Larry Harris,our "Esteemed" Urban Conservator would be saying its in the "public interest" that this "dangerous structure" come down because it has lost its 'historic value", Sean Minihan would probably be on the phone to the demo contractors and getting a street closing permit to knock it down that day. Ed Cunningham would be sympathetic but would say there really isn't anything that could be done. Cincinnati preservationists would lament "we lost another building" and that would be the end of it.
Contrast that with what happened in Indianapolis. I immediately went to my email and had over 30 emails from architects, preservationists , neighborhood leaders all discussing strategy on how to save it. City officials were not saying "we must demo this building immediately" instead they were saying "we will have engineers and other experts look at the situation and determine if the building needs to come down or can be stabilized'. In fact, the owner of this building , who sensed a potential bonanza, because the building sat on a prime commercial corner worth far more as vacant lot, wanted it torn down, but was denied a demo permit. Emergency stabilization was ordered.
There were legal battles and this is the building today, STILL STANDING, stabilized and waiting a restoration and eventual reuse.While not a pretty building at the moment, but it was never going to "fall down" (the typical 'excuse' used by Cincinnati city inspectors based on their "vast' engineering background)
The difference? Unlike Cincinnati where the preservation community "rolls over", other city's have Preservation groups that can make city officials life a "living hell". City officials KNOW there will be a fight to demo, they know there will be attorneys knocking on the courthouse doors, injunction in hand. The Result: they are far less likely to demo property. They now understand preservation as an economic development tool and they understand that it will be the entire preservation community against them if they rush to demo. City legal understands it is a far better use of their time to deal with more serious issues than spend countless hours and valuable resources fighting preservationists over old houses.
So what should be our Primary Preservation Goals for 2011?
Solidarity: ALL neighborhood groups need to cooperate and work together on these Preservation emergencies. If a preservation emergency happens, all the neighborhood groups pile on the council and city officials. We may have differences on other issues, but when it comes to saving our history we all agree to support each other.
Preservation Legal Defense Fund: Individually few of us could afford to retain a law firm for legal defense of historic structures. I propose a joint fund raising effort with the goal of retention of a law firm to fight preservation issues in Cincinnati.
A Preservation Action Team: A emergency task force of Architects, engineers, preservation consultants, bloggers and community leaders who will agree to coop on 'preservation emergencies'. Get the word out, establish support for preservation, prepare engineering/architectural reports to counter city inspector arguments and provide expert opinions, for the legal team.
Establishment of a dedicated preservation action website: for the purposes of sharing information, planning strategy and being proactive on possible issues.
Political Review: send a preservation query form to each council person and candidate for council. Existing councilmen will be given a preservation grade. Those with failing grades will not be supported by the preservation community at large. Candidates will receive support who adopt and sign, a "pro preservation platform " that supports changes in policies and elimination of city ordinances that hinder and impede preservation efforts.
Preservation targets for 2011:
Force the City to document ( by court action if necessary) section 106 review of all nuisance properties currently on the city list and seek removal of properties from that list that lack serious structural issues.
Elimination of the VBML ordinance, greater emphasis on repair orders.
Create a "TOP 10" annual problem property owner list and lobby city legal to aggressively pursue those individuals.
Lobby city leaders for establishment of a dedicated housing court to deal with real problem property owners.
Raise the tax abatement level to 500K to encourage difficult endangered property redevelopment.
Embark on a city wide educational effort on the value of preservation as an economic development tool.
Creation of a workable "land bank' ordinance/license for privately held property with realistic requirements for property stabilization in the short term.
New vacant lot ordinance with requirements for landscaping and appropriate fencing.
Eliminate demolition permits for private owners (contractors only) and require a zoning/planning hearing on all proposed demolitions.
Lofty Goals? NOT REALLY! other cities already do these things and its time we get with the program. We can do this, we can have our historic architecture its just going to take an "attitude adjustment' to do so.