A historic structure at 142 McMicken in Over the Rhine is facing demolition due to an "emergency demolition" request by Cincinnati Public Schools. I am not here to discuss the "politics' of this issue or the public statements of CPS officials at various public meetings in which they publicly stated they had no intent to demo this property. I believe at the end of the day CPS should face the Ethics Commissions of the State of Ohio and they should determine if CPS and possibly the city of Cincinnati acted in a lawful and ethical manner and if any violation of Ethics and/or sunshine laws exist. I am reasonably certain there are "preservation minded" people in OTR who will pursue that track, and if any "back room deals' were made between city officials and CPS officials that those will be exposed and appropriate legal proceedings will result.
This latest emergency demolition scenario plays out far too often, not only in OTR, but across the city and its time the council look at the issuance of not only Emergency Demolition Permits but demolition permits in general and close the loopholes that allow property owners to circumvent preservation or for that matter city orders against their property.
Every time a demolition permit is issued the city and the county lose a source of revenue. Vacant lots are not assessed at the same value as a structure and over a period of 3-5 years that means the city could lose tens of thousands of dollars in tax revenues when demolition occurs without a re-development plan.
Further we simply replace the "blight' of blighted structure with the 'blight' of a vacant lot. Cincinnati does not, as part of the issuance of a demo permit, require the property owner to also submit a 'landscape plan' for the vacant lot as many cities require. In other words the property owner has no 'forward cost' regarding the lot which means there is no dis-incentive to demo. Many cities have a "landscape buffer requirement" on ANY vacant lot. Essentially that the front 10 foot of exposed to a public right of way (like a sidewalk or alley), MUST be landscaped and fenced. This accomplishes many things. 1.) Property is not left in an abandoned state. 2.) Property is secured by fencing which limits illegal dumping. 3) Adjacent properties are not negatively impacted by the vacant lot. This should also apply to city demolitions as well.
Clearly we are 10-20 years behind what other more 'forward thinking' cities are doing when it comes to this issue and it is an issue that the department of planning and the council should take up. Under the present system we "reward" demolition by neglect with the "get out of jail free card" of emergency demolition. We lose tax revenue and we allow property to sit without a development plan.
Furthermore demolition represents a "change of use' of a property and as such should be subject to a zoning/planning commission hearing in which residents within 250 feet of the proposed demolition are notified along with any local registered neighborhood group. We currently let any "Billy Bob with a pickup truck" tear down a building and its only a matter of time given the proximity of buildings when someone gets hurt or killed and the city finds itself facing a lawsuit for issuing a permit to an unqualified homeowner who does not take appropriate safety precautions.
To 'get the Conversation started" I would propose the following:
1.) Demolition Permits may only be issued to a Licenced Demolition Contractor, who would be registered as such with the city and meet Federal EPA lead abatement certification and have appropriate liability coverage Private property owners may no longer obtain a demolition permit.
2) Demolition Permits will be issues ONLY if the following requirements are met:: All delinquent taxes on the subject property must be brought current. Any "in arrears" VBML fees/city liens MUST be paid. Property owners may not be in court on other "blighted properties" . Demolition permits are only valid for a 14 day period. Permit holder must erect appropriate safety fencing around the lot during the demolition process.
3). In the case where Demolition Permits are requested and no re-development plan is presented the property owner will be required to submit a 10 foot "Landscape buffer zone plan" in any instance where the resulting vacant lot will abut a public right of way. The property owner must provide fencing for the property appropriate to others in the neighborhood. Chain link/razor wire prohibited. Any property located in a current historic district or proposed district or withing 500 feet of a designated historic structure MUST be first approved by the Historic Commission and certificate of appropriateness must be issued, no exceptions.
4) Demolition fees will rise 25 percent from current rate AND the property owner will pay a "Tax loss revenue surcharge fee" equal to the loss of 2 years property tax revenue unless redevelopment plans /permits are pulled for new structure for the site at the same time. The 'surcharge fee' is partially refundable if the property is redeveloped within the two year period.
If we take a "get tough" approach and demolition is a more expensive proposition than maintaining a property then more properties will be maintained. More importantly Historic structures will be preserved. Also those "investor types' who speculate will understand there is an expense looming over them .and it will encourage more responsible ownership/buyers.