Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cincinnati Preservation Survey 2011: The results are in! Part 1

In February of this year we began our Cincinnati Preservation Survey for 2011. This survey was designed to obtain a pulse of the Preservation community as well as opinion on a variety of Preservation related issues.. The questions for this survey were developed by contacting local community leaders and preservationists and asking what questions they would  like answers to if they were able to have a 1 on 1 with city officials or what issues they felt were 'defining' to the preservation community. The survey sampling was for 6 week period ending March 31, 2011. The online survey allowed for comments and some of those comments we will print here. Due to the lock out of an IP address once a survey was taken individuals could not easily make multiple responses to a survey.We will provide all comments given in a report that we intent to send to Council members, the Mayor, city manager and managers of the city inspection department. After that we will publish the entire document to Google docs and make it available to all those who would like to review it with all the comments. The total survey sampling size was 651 respondents. Not all respondents answered all questions. Percentages are based on actual responses. There were 8 questions in the survey. Today we will review the first four questions, tomorrow the last 4.

Question 1: Historic Preservation: will it get better or worse in 2011?

50% said better
26 % said worse
24% said about same.
1 person skipped the question

Survey respondents were generally optimistic about Preservation with half saying that it would be better in 2011 and 24  % saying it would be about the same. This would seem to indicate that many feel there is forward movement on Preservation .

Question 2: The VBML (Vacant Building Maintenance Ordinance) is now 14 years old. Many have questioned if this ordinance, originally created to help get property restored and stop speculation, is now hurting  preservation efforts. What will best help Preservation where this ordinance is concerned?

0%         Keep the VBML the way it is.
20.4%   Toughen the Ordinance penalties
79.6%   Scrap ordinance and convert to repair orders
2  people skipped this question

Clearly, based on the survey, the VBML is a really "hot button" issue. NO ONE felt it should be preserved in its present form, some of you felt penalties need to be toughened but the overwhelming majority almost 80 percent seemed to feel the days of the VBML should be over and  the city should concentrate on repair orders. This question has a comments section and here are some comments:

"Biggest hindrance to restoration I know in this city" 

"I've never seen the VBML result in anything other than a demolition, or false hope, and then a  demolition "

"VBML allows owners to spend small amounts of money to avoid repairs. Even if it were large amounts of money, VBML would still consume money that should be spent on restoration. Focus on repairs, don't enable further decay. Scrap VBML entirely."

Question 3: The issue of proper Section 106 review. Is the city doing an adequate job of obtaining public input on Preservation prior to the nuisance hearing as required under Federal Guidlines?

2%     The city is doing a good job
14%    The city needs to develop a real plan to address issue
38%    The city is not doing a good job
32%    The city has no real section 106 review in place
14%    Do not know enough about this issue
1 person skipped this question

 The view of the community seems to be the city is not doing a good job with 38 %  in that category and another 32 % feeling the city has no real plan. It would appear the city has not addressed this issue to the satisfaction of the community. There was a comments section for this question and below some of the many well thought out comments.

'106 review is not Preservation, but rather lip service about Preservation. Even if the process is perfected, it will not preserve a single property, it will only keep them from being destroyed using Fed funds. It's carrot vs stick. Today we are trying to preserve by making it hard to demo. Its not working. we need to make it so easy to buy and restore a property that no one would dream of destroying it. Scrap VBML and 106. Offer free permit, no plan review and charge inspections at cost for anybody restoring 75+ yr old property to reasonably original condition. Charge interior improvements nominally. In other words, absolutely no bureaucratic obstacles to making a building look original from outside.' 

'This is the biggest concern for preservationist who are thinking about investing money in this city. They must feel the historic fabric has adequate protections which includes notice and an opportunity to be heard before any demo can take place . This is not in the new ordinance and was not done prior to the ordinance.'

"Public notification of reviews is poor, the HCO lacks resources, and the information the HCO is working off of is outdated or largely incomplete.'

Question 4: Urban Conservators Office: many have questioned if the current Urban Conservator is qualified for his position and have questioned his determinations if a structure is a contributing structure. Your view?

0%       The current Urban Conservator should be retained
19.6%    The current Urban conservator should be retained, but trained
52.9%    The Current Urban Conservator should be terminated
27.5%    Do not know enough about this issue

Clearly based on this survey , there is no confidence in the job the current Urban conservator is doing. This is an issue that the council needs to address. There is a comments section and below are some comments

 "A neutral third party should be consulted in addition to the Urban conservator. A single city employee should not have exclusive say over whether or not a building is demolished, repaired, or left alone."

"Larry Harris refuses to protect historic structures using fabricated defenses based on political judgments. He is the laughing stock of the preservation world. If Cincinnati is serious about preservation, a qualified candidate with both experience and passion in preservation area must be hired. Additional support staff and resources must be committed to the city Conservators office once that is done."

 "if he still fails to do an adequate job in his post after training the he should be terminated".

So there you have an overview of the first half of the survey. thanks to everyone who participated and feel free to leave comments about what you have seen in part one. Tomorrow we will cover the second half and try to make sense of what this means and what our issues should be going forward.

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