Thursday, December 29, 2011

City sued by local preservation advocate, Mike Morgan for failure to follow its own procedures and guidelines!

Photo from Auditors record
Well-known local Preservation advocate, and author Mike Morgan has filed a lawsuit against the City of Cincinnati in an effort to compel the city to follow its own legal procedures and guidelines. The lawsuit is an effort to save a property he owns that continues to deteriorate because of the city of Cincinnati failure to issue permits and approvals that would allow him to save the historic Over the Rhine property on Walnut Street

The six-count complaint has been filed against the City of Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board; Charles C Graves, director of city planning; City of Cincinnati, and the office of the Urban Conservator, Larry Harris

The suit by Mr. Morgan involves his property at 1623-1625 Walnut Street. The six-count complaint alleges:

Count 1:


Count 2:


Count 3:


Count 4:


Count 5:

Count 6

To overview the suit essentially alleged that the city via the Historic Conservation Board and planning department have failed to follow its own city building codes, its own set procedures regarding notifications, failed to provide proper recourse for property owners to remediate building problems and essentially resulted in further damage to their properties because they are prevented form effecting repairs that would prevent further water damage.

The suit also alleges that there is ambiguity in the ordinances and procedures and that it is part of an on-going pattern of selective enforcement and that those named including Charles Graves and city solicitors are aware of this and have failed to enforce proper procedures and the ordinances of the city as written.

Mr. Morgan, who is an attorney, has taken this action because he is essentially prevented from fixing his property and it continues to deteriorate. In a recent email conversation he stated his overall goal.

“I hope to force the HCB to function within the boundaries of the law.  They are supposed to be both restricted by and bound to honor the guidelines established for each historic district.  My lawsuit makes a challenge to one aspect of the Over-the-Rhine guidelines, but this is only an example of a much broader problem.  By making the law up as it goes along, the HCB both permits demolition of buildings that should be saved and makes appropriate redevelopment of properties unnecessarily difficult.  No property owner in this city can possess a reasonable expectation of what will or will not be permitted in a rehab until the HCB arbitrarily concocts whatever law they decide to manufacture in your particular circumstance on that particular day.  They refuse to be bound by the governing guidelines.  They refuse to create or be bound by their own precedent and, in some instances, change positions in the same case from one hearing to the next.  This does a disservice to everyone.  It makes it ridiculously -- and I believe unconstitutionally -- cumbersome to do the right thing with historic buildings, and far to easy to destroy them.”

He also pointed out that this is a “taxpayer action” filed on behalf of the citizens of this City.  Additional plaintiffs may be welcome.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

West End: More low income or more demolitions? Time for real Preservation

The West End face's another familiar challenge. More Low income crime ridden housing or more demolitions.

At stake is a a huge chunk of West End Real Estate, specifically 1800, 1803, 1804, 1807,1809, 1813, 1817, 1819, 1901 Baymiller all up in the court of housing appeals. If those addresses sound familiar its because they are all old  Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority properties that were shut down years ago because of the poor living conditions and high crime in them.  CMHA dumped these properties on the market with no protective covenants requiring restoration or Preservation, presumably to get out from under the legal problems with these properties which had gone from VBML to condemn status. Most of these properties have been 'mired' in low income housing since the 1970's

The properties were bought by "West End Renaissance Village" / CRA  (Community Revitalization Agency),which according to its website is proposing to build new "systems built" (Prefab) homes on the east side of Baymiller. According to the website:

"Community Revitalization Agency paid considerable attention to the design of the garages of the newly constructed homes.  CRA had the homes designed to provide garages entering in the front of the homes principally due to the lack of available alley entrances.  Also, community input suggested that alley entrances would present somewhat of an issue due to inner-city issues with respect to crime.  Consequently, each home will need a “curb cut” to provide adequate entry from the street".

Front facing garages would destroy the historic appearance of the West End. The historic homes will be "Rehabbed' according to the website. There are no architectural renderings of this proposal anywhere on their website

This proposed influx of 'affordable hosuing' may however come as a surprise to those along Dayton Street who have invested millions of dollars in restoring homes back to single family. Apparently no historic protections exist in that area of Baymiller.

In fact 'West End Renaissance Villages" partners are listed as: Brightstar Baptist Church, Ohio Finance Fund, Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority, Whitepine Construction, All American Homes, Wichman & Gunther , the website proclaims that Renaissance Village will have  64 sites concentrated on York, Baymiller, Findley and Linn Streets  More info here:

No one seems to be able to ascertain if "West End Renaissance Village" and  the CRA , even has  the money to build this grand project. Sources tell me that there were plans to use "Hope VI" monies but given the current litigation over where previous monies were spent that seems doubtful.

In the meantime many of these properties are falling down, In fact some have orders going back 10 years and several were ordered vacated by the city . No one can explain why CMHA, funded with Federal tax dollars was 'allowed' to let these buildings fall into such disrepair in the first place not why these properties , which given their location near the Dayton Street Historic District, and have value, were essentially 'given away' by CMHA. It looks like the classic "slumlord shuffle" but with a governmentt agency and a non profit. All of this  at a time when the poor are leaving the west end for areas with more job opportunities and many of the social services churches are leaving, why there is a push to keep the West End  in stranglehold' of low income housing is a big question. Why was CMHA allowed to escape its maintence responsibilities on these properties in the first place and can CRA demonstrate it has the monies to beging immediate stabilization of these properties?

Its is also a question that property owners in the West End who have spent millions restoring their homes need to be asking now and preservationist city wide should be concerned about. What needs to happen is that these homes need historic protections and should be sold with protective covenants to people with the demonstrated funding to restore them. We must move beyond the 1960's and the idea that this area must remain a poor enclave.The West End need to be allowed to realize its full potential and be returned to the vibrant historic community it once was..

Friday, October 7, 2011

"Blight" Tours: A creative way to attract Preservation and Re-investment

A Great restoration (Photo courtesy EPNIA website)
 Generally speaking by the time most neighborhoods are holding a home tour, the "Urban Pionneers" have long moved on to other neighborhoods and the home prices have gone through the roof. One neighborhood , on its way back, is taking a different approach and "blight tours"' may soon replace the more traditional home tour.

The reasons are simple, attracting those willing to restore old houses is harder than ever before. While prices are generally down and there is a large influx of foreclosed properties , often once grand single families that have suffered the indignity of being turned into apartments, the credit markets have tightened and trying to find those willing to restore and finding resources to do the restoration have become extremely difficult.

One neighborhood in Illinois is trying a new approach of outreach to Preservation minded people and it could well become the latest tactic of emerging neighborhoods and historic preservationists who are trying to turn around a neighborhood by attracting reinvestment.

Known as "Blight Tours" or their more sanitized name "Urban Pioneer Tour"s, the Enos Park Neighborhood in Springfield Illinois is holding its "Urban Pioneer Home Tour' tommorrow (October 8th) from 1-4 PM and is offering the public an opportunity to see some of its "land banked homes', in progress homes, and see the preservation opportunities that exist in the Enos Park Neighborhood. the neighborhood group which has its own land bank and has been strategically buying property and vacant land and has amassed over 40 properties. The goal is to find those "Urban Pioneers" who want to restore and live in a great neighborhood. The group has partnered with lending institutions and other resources who will be on hand to provide information and resources. More info on the tour and Enos Park is available here:

I find this to be a great and solid approach to attracting preservation oriented people and is similar to the small private tours I have been giving of our Knox Hill neighborhood for some time and ties into our "Preservation Opportunity Tour" that Knox Hill Neighborhood Association is planning for Spring of 2012 when we will showcase two under restoration properties and several "opportunity' homes.

Clearly with changing times and challenges presented to neighborhoods new strategies are important.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Historic Preservation : A criminal offense. City Council are you listening?

"Basically, they are saying homeowners are not allowed to restore their houses because it takes too long... unless they can afford a team of contractors to do the work. So they are discouraging historic preservation for anyone but the wealthy. If I had left it covered in ugly, faded 40+ yr old aluminum siding covering all the architectural character, they'd be happy.  I'm being punished for doing historic preservation of my house."

That's a quote from a lady named Nina who is facing criminal; prosecution in Lakewood Ohio for RESTORING her house. You can read the entire story on her blog:

It must be something in the water in Ohio maybe?

Of course her problem is an everyday one for most of us restoring a house in Cincinnati. I know of one Preservationists in Cincinnati who is on house arrest and Of course we all know one highly regarded person in OTR was recently arrested and spent days in jail. Meantime a local slumlord purchased  a large number of properties at the County forfeiture sale earlier this year, placed them in his sons name and  is "patching together" a condemned house (with real structural problems) in my neighborhood with city approvals.

While other cities , in other parts of the country, encourage Historic preservation by sponsoring workshops and conferences on Preservation and "How to "  seminars and some cities are even offering 1/2 price or no cost permit fees to encourage people to buy and restore distressed foreclosures, our city plows along in the last century more intent on squeezing that last drop of blood they can out of you before you get fed up and make that one way trip across the river to Newport or Covington to restore a house, never to be seen again.

Unfortunately it happens all too often in Cincinnati. One can look across the river to Newport or Covington and see the "preservation energy" People restoring old houses , bringing back neighborhoods and improving the tax base. While we do nothing to encourage Preservation other cities move forward, I hope all those running for council or those who currently have seats on the council realize that unless the council enacts some common sense policies they will be presiding over the next Detroit, because it looks to me like those 30,000 people we lost in population all moved across the river and are restoring houses and buildings over there.

At a time when we have a great resources our historic houses, that could expand our population and thereby our tax base we , much like Lakewood Ohio are caught in downward spiral of bureaucracy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why Cincinnati Needs Historic Preservation? Jobs!

Historic preservation is a powerful economic development strategy, creating more private-sector jobs per dollar of investment than new construction. According to the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, "One million dollars spent on rehabilitation, compared to the same amount spent on new construction, yields between five and nine more local construction jobs, creates 4.7 more new jobs elsewhere in the community and provides $107,000 more in community income. It also generates $34,000 more in retail sales."

Those are powerful arguments for Preservation Advocacy in Cincinnati. We clearly have the Historic Building Stock. Urban neighborhoods are increasingly the preferred location for your Professionals employed downtown and other, tired of long commutes, are being attracted to the idea of Urban Living, The biggest drawbacks to Urban living for younger people with children is schools, but CPS has embarked on reopening schools like the Old Fairmount High school as the Quebec Heights Academy and new private schools like the Roosevelt school are opening on Treemont.

The city  has also been hard hit by the foreclosure crisis with many who bought in at the height of the market who became upside down on their mortgages simply walking away. Property assessments have declined in many Urban neighborhoods with viable housing stock, While many locals may not be interested in these Neighborhoods, Cincinnati draws increasing attention from National Preservationists drawn to the area because of that architecture. Spend anytime on a preservation forum or website and Cincinnati's wealth of riches inevitably come up.

At the same time we have a serious unemployment problem. While Fortune 500 companies continue to attract top talent we have many living on assistance or in poverty, many of thoe unemployed lack the education to be competitive and manufacturing jobs have dried up due to global competition. Restoration of Cincinnati's Historic Housing stock would create valuable construction jobs. Restored neighborhoods like OTR and West End will help contribute to a heritage tourism industry  which creates retail and hospitality service jobs.

We have the Historic Housing Stock, we have the interest of people wanting to come to Cincinnati and restore, we have the workforce and we have major Corporations telling us we need viable Urban neighborhoods to attract top talent. So whats the problem?

The problem is a city leadership mired in old policy, red tape and roadblocks and a serious addiction to CDBG and NSP funds to help supplement salaries. This fosters bad policies that hinder investment in our community. The Blight=bulldozer approach of 1960 urban renewal didnt work then and its not working now. Creation of red tape, an extremely complex and costly permitting process, the VBML which prohibits one from living in house they are restoring ( which would promote safety in Urban neighborhoods as the more eyes you have the harder it is for criminal elements to operate), demolition without city acquisition or maintenance of the remaining vacant lots, all contribute to a 'hostile' environment for Preservation.

With over FIVE THOUSAND properties on the keep Vacant/condemn/nuisance list, while attractive to city managers eager to demonstrate 'need' for more federal dollars, it send the message that Cincinnati is becoming the "Next Detroit". This fact is not lost on Corporate CEO decision makers and boards  on where to locate or relocate as we are now losing companies looking for more 'attractive' metro environments.

City Inspectors, permits and the city manager want to maintain the status quo and continue with that federal funds addiction. But those funds may be going away and without a plan to change things we will become less and less competitive and our fiscal crisis will grow.

We need real leadership and vision, city government that will lead and maintain fiscal responsibilty. The answers are simple.

Eliminate the VBML Program in favor of repair based inspections like other cities, eliminate the vacant building task force and realign the department so we have  inspector who applies the building code not one for occupied, one for vacant.  Revamp city database so health inspectors, building inspectors and permits are on the same page. Establish a dedicated housing court. Streamline the permit process, offer incentives to people buying a foreclosed property who agrees to live in it. Create CRZ's (Community Reinvestment Zones) with reduced permit fees, Tax abatement for historic restoration increased to 500K. Partner with schools to offer preservation based trades training and properly fund the Urban Conservators office (or better yet, outsource it) and create an office that will advocate and market the historic resources of this city.

In short cut the red tape and roadblocks and adopt common sense strategies to attract reinvestment in our community.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another Court Date: Gamble House stands...for now as Preservationist await hearing results

Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler considered oral arguments in an appeal of findings of Magistrate Michael L Bachman.

Preservationis have argued that the  demolition of the Gamble House will impact the City of Cincinnati Historic Preservation process and require modification of existing laws.

The judge is expected to render a determination within 60 days

Monday, September 12, 2011

MSD Lick Run 'Daylighting' Plan may have serious problems with Eminent Domain precedents set in Norwood.

MSD, the city of Cincinnati, and county commissioners could face legal hurdles if it resorts to use of eminent domain to acquire parcels for the “daylighting” of Lick Run  as a remedy as somel property owners have now indicated they will not sell..

Recent court decisions  City of Norwood v Horney et all,  has determined that there is a higher standard applied than demolition for development sake and elimination of ‘blight’.

The Institute of Justice effectively argued that case and based on those argument the court held that:

It is unconstitutional to take property through the exercise of eminent domain to obtain a financial or economic benefit alone. Thus, taking property solely for economic development purposes does not satisfy the public-use requirements of Section 19, Article 1 of the Ohio Constitution. This decision sets Ohio apart from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo which ruled that under the U.S. Constitution economic development is a valid public purpose for which private property can be taken.

Statutes that give appropriating entities the right to take property based on the standard that is in a “deteriorating area” are unconstitutional. The term “deteriorating area” is void for vagueness because it does not give property owners fair notice of the standard for taking property. The term also imper-missibly incorporates speculation about the future condition of the property, rather than basing the appropriation on the condition of the property at the time of the taking. Eliminating a “deteriorating area” does not satisfy the public use requirements of Section 19, Article 1 of the Ohio Constitution.

Courts in Ohio will apply a heightened scrutiny and will not simply yield to the discretion of legislative bodies when reviewing statutes and ordinances that regulate the use of eminent domain powers. The actions of legislative bodies will be afforded some deference, but courts will be the final arbiters of whether those actions satisfy proper public purpose requirements.

A court can enjoin or stop the appropriating entity from taking and using the property appropriated during the pendency of an appeal.

How will those arguments potentially play out for MSD,the city, and the county in an eminent domain suit?  Well for one the Mayor, various representative of MSD and the county and even certain EPA representative have all ‘touted’ the use of this “daylighting” of Lick Run for redevelopment in the area. They have rolled out nice drawings showing how they intend to attract developers to the area and how some acquired property for the project will be ‘redeveloped’ by presumably private developers.  It shows as “new construction” in their drawings.

That is problematic for the parties involved, given the court in the Norwood case determined

“It is unconstitutional to take property through the exercise of eminent domain to obtain a financial or economic benefit alone. Thus, taking property solely for economic development purposes does not satisfy the public-use requirements of Section 19, Article 1 of the Ohio Constitution.”

The legal question become: Does the  ‘daylighting’ of a creek constitute a public use. Now MSD could argue that the ‘daylighting’ is part of a ‘park development”. However there are several parks within Fairmount already that provide ample recreational opportunity. In fact the city has recreation facility on Queen City already. So the argument that this is an essential taking has problems. It is not essential as adequate facilities currently exist. Their other problem is they have identified it as part of a revitilization plan.

So the next logical argument will be that the daylighting is ‘necessary’ for the city to meet EPA requirements. However EPA has already determined that the ‘deep tunnel’ provides the necessary avenue to meet the EPA mandate. So the “daylighting’ of the waterway is not NECESARY to meet federal mandate it is just inconvenient and more costly for MSD to do so.  So the question would become, should private property rights prevail regarding the “taking’ of the property for this “purpose/mandate” which can be achieved by other avenues.

This leaves MSD/city/county with the “blight” argument and that Fairmount is a “deteriorating area” but that is even more problematic. This is similar to that argument used by Norwood and they will no doubt argue that South Fairmount is a “deteriorating area”.

However in the Norwood case the court determined that:

 ‘The use of  “deteriorating area” as a standard for determining whether private property is subject for appropriation is void for vagueness. further “ The use of deteriorating area as a standard for the taking is unconstitutional because the term inherently incorporates speculation as to the future condition of a property at the time of the taking”

In fact many would argue it is city policy such as abuse of VBML by city inspection, condemn orders and demolition that drove down property value “perhaps’ in anticipation of eminent domain, but that will likely play out as a separate legal action against the city.

There is already the debate on if South Fairmount may already be turning around. Significant restoration investment in the V&S buildings, several home restorations in the area (along Westwood and Queen City) has happening. The reopening of the old high school on White as Quebec Academy by CPS, the newly restored Roosevelt  K-12 school on Treemont. The millions of on-going investment in Knox Hill and its planned National Registry nomination, all point to a neighborhood coming back, not deteriorating, IN SPITE of city policies and implementation designed to hold those areas back.

Of course MSD has spent huge sums buying property in “anticipation” of this project but the acquisition at this point seems VERY premature and not a good use of taxpayer funds. Despite the city's history of back room deals , those deals may not help in a court of law.

More information about the Norwood case can be found here:

Norwood Decision

Thursday, September 8, 2011

City could face legal challenges over past demolition policies

Preservationists, concerns about an attempt by a city contractor to pull a demo permit prior to a 106 review hearing, and an admission by a city official, in an email exchange, may have opened the way for a potential legal problems for the city regarding prior demolitions performed by the Cincinnati Department of Community Development with the use of federal funds.

The issue arose regarding the attempt by Wayne Contracting to pull a demolition permit on 940 Summit Ave in Price Hill, the building had been put out to bid but the city had not issued a notice to proceed. A local preservationist who has been monitoring the pulling of permits noticed this. The actual hearing to determine Historic eligibility under Section 106 review is not scheduled until September 19th. This property is, in the belief of many historic preservationists, significant due to its rare shingle style and the fact it was originally owned by a locally prominent individual. Both factors could make it eligible under for historic eligibility.

After I learned of this issue and in order to clarify the status of the permit and the property I contacted Edward Cunningham, the division Manager of the Cincinnati Department of Community Development for the City Property Maintenance Code enforcement Division to inquire as to why a demo permit had been pulled on this property, PRIOR, to a nuisance hearing due to my concern that the city might be engaging in “anticipatory demolitions” prior to the Federal mandated Section 106 reviews taking place. As part of my inquiry Mr. Cunningham made the following statements:

“As I mentioned, we checked with the urban conservator before putting the subject out to bid and it was not listed in the City Historic inventory as eligible. This building was put out to bid prior to City Council passing the ordinance requiring the Urban Conservator to hold public
hearings to determine eligibility.”

He further stated:

“If such a building is eventually determined to  be historic it is also possible to repair it where reasonable under the recent code changes.”

At question is if the City’s previous means of evaluating historic significance – which was apparently limited to consulting its own Historic Inventory – did not constitute the “good faith effort” required by 36 CFR Section 800.4(b)(1).  

That question could be determined in Federal Court if property owners whose property was demolished prior to the city’s new policy change of public notice of 106 hearings prior to the use of Federal Funds decide to sue the city.

The legal question is: Did the city, prior to the policy change, deny due legal process by only consulting a historic building inventory and did the failure of the Urban Conservators office to make attempts to access the public for comment, deny a property owners a legal process in which they might have proved their property did meet historic eligibility and avoided an “Illegal taking” (demolition) of property by the city.

Under that scenario, that a property is determined historic eligible, the city would have been legally required by federal law to explore other options that would have included stabilization of a structure rather than demolition. While a property owner would have had a lien placed against a property for the repairs, they would have still owned a property with greater value than a vacant lot without a house, and might have had an opportunity to sell the stabilized property, pay the city for the stabilization costs (lien) and recoup their original costs on the property.

This recent change in Section 106 review policy by the council, many believe was the result of the Knox Hill Neighborhood Association which filed a citizens complaint with the department of Housing and Urban Development in 2009, regarding Section 106 compliance and the fact the city was only relying on the nuisance hearing as an opportunity for citizens to be heard regarding significance of property as potentially historic.

However, if appears, based on Mr. Cunningham’s statement, that the city has, in the past, primarily relied on if the property was on the Historic Building Inventory as a determining factor of it met eligibility. Based on that it would appear the city has not, in the past, made the good faith requirement to access the public on if a structure may have historic significance as required under Federal Section 106 guidelines.

Those Historic Building Inventories were began in 1978 and many have not been sufficiently updated. Most preservationists feel that they are inadequate as the inventories were cursory, at best, given the huge number of old properties in the city and without any historic research. The fact they some were done in back in 1978 means that many properties at that time were not 50 years old and may have been overlooked for eligibility. For example, many modern style ‘mid century’ structures would not have been even considered for eligibility as they were not yet 50 years old. Local preservationists and neighborhood groups are currently conducting surveys (mostly on the Westside) to update those historic building inventories to make sure they are up to date and many previously overlooked properties are on the inventory.

This could also mean that all the properties currently on the city nuisance list will need to be re-evaluated by the Urban Conservators office.

The reason the public is to be engaged under the section 106 review process is that members of the public may have information, say regarding a house history or historical events that took place there that could make the property historic eligible, that the Urban Conservator Office may not be aware of. Historic Eligibility would not mean a property could not be demolished but that the city must explore other options when Federal funds are used.

The city has demolished hundreds of properties with the use of federal funding (CDBG and NSP) which is regulated by the Section 106 process requirement.

One property owner I spoke to yesterday, whose property was demoed with federal funds, upon learning of this indicated they planned on seeking legal counsel on the matter.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

SHHH..Dont tell city officials urban neighborhoods are coming back..they will just mess it up!

There was an interesting article a few weeks ago about the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood and its 'amazing' turnaround:

The premise was that a once established black neighborhood was suddenly experiencing 'white influx'. Now this should be of no surprise to any historic preservationist. The neighborhood has  (compared to the rest of New York) great architecture at affordable  prices. The fact the neighborhood experienced a 633 percent increase in white migration should be no surprise to anyone.

The move to Urban neighborhoods has been happening for decades now. From the 1970's and 80's when San Francisco saw a great residential rebirth,  the turnaround of Indianapolis urban neighborhoods in the 90's and  even the turnaround of downtown Los Angeles going on right now..

City officials, urban planners, the 'visions' for the future groups ( who typically do not live in the neighborhoods they 'vision' about) are always the last to realize what is going on in the real world of neighborhoods.

This Dayton St mansion was 7 apartments, now a single family, a growing trend.
Case in point: you can go on to the city data website and still see OTR described as a gang infested, war torn , bombed out neighborhood that will never turn around. However you can go to Findlay Market, drive up Vine or Main and see that while OTR still has a  long way to go, it has turned a corner. Dayton Street is another example, people focus on the tenements but fail to notice the 4-5 homes that are being restored back to single family every year. Have you been to Price Hill lately? Millions of dollars of restoration and renovation as that neighborhood makes its comeback.
Fairmount is the latest "disconnect' as MSD, the city and county commissioner's envision bulldozing the business/residential district, put in a glorified drainage ditch of a daylighted creek and 'magically' developers will flock to the area. Now while this make make Mayor Mallory "all tingly' it ignores the reality that there is opposition, both from preservationists, residents and business community. The city will have a major hurdle of section 106 review and the Norwood eminent domain case has changed the dynamic on eminent domain. Residents have access to legal help, federal and state law and process the city never considered when  it thought it would clean up 'poor, uneducated' Fairmount. Thinking, only they, the smartest people in the room, know what is best for Fairmount, may find themselves dumbfounded when they have to deal with the real world of section 106 review, eminent domain lawsuits and several another legal action all by people who are defending their neighborhood from people who don't live there, don't visit there and have no clue what is really going on in that neighborhood.

It is the inability to see what is actually going on rather than what they perceive is going on that drives them. Given the targeting by the vacant building task force to drive down property values to benefit MSD in its eminent domain offers, it is amazing this community has pulled itself up in spite of negative city policies.

Do you wonder if city officials know there are mansions in my neighborhood?
As Knox Hill moves toward its national registry nomination I have to ask, other than Councilman Lippert who actually toured my neighborhood, have ANY ONE of you taken the time to tour my neighborhood even though your policies directly affect it?
Beekman renovations

Have you looked at the renovations now occurring outside Knox Hill for example, like along Beekman?

Restored school
One of the key components to neighborhood turnaround is school options. CPS fought to prevent the new Roosevelt Academy,  from happening on Tremont, will the city ignore the illegal dumping on Waverly and Bloom streets to deny the school a fighting chance? Interesting now CPS is reopening the school on White street they wanted to sell just a few years ago as the Quebec Heights school,

Schools are generally a prime indicator of neighborhood direction.

 I sometimes wonder if it will take an article in New York times, a national piece on NPR or a segment on 60 minutes for city officials to wake up and smell the coffee? And to Mayor Mallory  whose been quoted a being 'all tingly' about the MSD project or  county planner Todd Kinskey who talks about the " light at the end of the tunnel"...come up to Knox Hill some weekend and I will show you a neighborhood that will make you all tingly and cure your bad case of "tunnel vision". You can see a neighborhood being done without Millions of Federal dollars, just people who care about their neighborhood and dont believe in "pipedream projects" not rooted in reality, but rather the real work of neighborhood might learn a few things.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

CDBG Funds: Covington offers facade grants. Cincinnati solution ? Bulldozers

Once again, stark differences are apparent between the way our city of Cincinnati uses federal dollars , namely CDBG  (Community Development Block Grant) funds, verses more progressive cities like Covington.

Covington has initiatead a Homeowner Facade Grant Program which is administered via the city Community Development Department. These grants are to assist homeowners with facde improvements visable from the city right of way.

Designed to assist home owners meeting certain income requirement it is just one more tool to build stronger neighborhorhoods and includes roof and gutter repairs, painting and porch trim repairs vs the Cincinnati approach which is to hit homwowners with VBML's and condemn orders.

We congratulate Covington for taking a "Foward thinking" approach much as countless other communities have across the country for use of CDBG funds and we find our selves asking why Cincinnati would rather subsidize demolition contractors with our federal tax dollars rather than make real efforts to build neighborhoods as Covington and other cities have done?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Preservation issues , and approaches, in other cities

In case you have not seen this article it makes important points about the value of historic preservation as an economic development tool.

I thought this one quote summed things up well:

"Historic preservation and investing in a city’s key cultural resources is often one of the most pragmatic financial moves a municipality can make, especially when facing population decline and right-sizing. "

This concept seems to be lost on Cincinnati city officials and people at the city inspection services, none of whom have preservation or urban planning experience. Can city inspectors who do not live in an an area, not know the daily dynamics of a neighborhood, make critical decision that not only impact one particular house but shape the destiny of an entire neighborhood as well.

For that manner could a community council whose areas are often huge know what is going on in a particular area or even one block their area? Probably not.

That is where preservationist come in. Our role is education and when it is called for legal action and/or political lobbying to see neighborhood interest move forward and in a direction that best represents the goals of that neighborhood.

Another outstanding quote from this article:

"As we know, protection and preservation opportunities do not just spontaneously spring out of the ground. New development does not either. Historic preservation is incentivize with TIFF zones and facade grant programs, and home-owner rehab programs that focus on preservation. Important historic homes and commercial buildings are given away or sold at below market price. You create an easement program to protect key properties; you promote the historic preservation tax credit program and perhaps create your own. "

This is an area where our city is far behind the time TIFF's are largely the province of big developers here, we have no facade grant program which most cities use CDBG funds for ( we use ours for demo). If this city were to 'give away' homes there would be so much red tape and roadblocks attached as to make restoration impossible. Once again this is education  and it must occur at the council and city manager level and trickle down.

If the city wanted to address the problem of "blighted properties" in a way other than a bulldozer, it can be done with a variety of targeted low or no cost measures.

For example the city could look at its list of over 5000 properties with VBML or Condemn status.. We could create a new program  in which the city would offer incentives to homebuyer wishing to owner occupy these homes, many of which are the product of foreclosure.

KHNA is looking for a preservation minded buyer for this property which is in a short sale situation with our "Save not Raze program.

Typically these properties need some lot cleanup and as we know dumpster fees are high in our city. The city could offer a  cleanup coupon worth 250.00 off on dumpster rental. These properties often have suffered theft of furnaces, copper pipe etc and the city could waive or offer 1/2 price permit fees as an incentive to be sure things are done right. We also need an administrative process where VBML 's are converted to specific repair orders ( so homeowners can obtain financing) for homebuyers who will make application to the city that the home will be owner occupied. We also need to understand that many of these homes are in higher crime areas and we must allow those homeowners to occupy those homes while under restoration.

We also need to look at our current tax abatement program and consider increasing the time frame from 10 to 15 years and potentially increasing the abatement amount when a property is restored to Secretary of the Interior standards. This would encourage more restoration and ultimately bring up property values of the entire neighborhood.

We need to get away from reaching for the bulldozer and look at our historic homes as a potential resource that will bring people back to urban neighborhoods and in the process create safer , more valuable neighborhood that will add to our property tax base.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Small targeted Preservation based development vs. Governmental "big ideas"

We all know that the City of Cincinnati is hooked on  Federal Funds, from CDBG to NSP if there is Federal money out there the city will find some way to 'justify' getting a piece of it. It is also true that the city is largely a failure at redevelopment of historic properties. One need only look at 292 McGregor or the townhomes on Lincoln the city restored to realize this. However its the lure of the Federal gravy train that keeps them coming up with grand ideas not based in 'real world' economics. The latest of these "boondoggles" is the MSD/City MSD Lick Run which proposed to wipe out S. Fairmount to build a glorified drainage ditch with Infill around it.

So what does work? or should I say what is working? Well Knox Hill is developing a good track record in a relatively short time. These strategies will work in any area and a block by block based not some "grand plan' the city would come up with and it basically involved not reaching for the bulldozer AND lobbying when the city wants to resort to it.

Some paint and pride go a long way to turnaround and is the first step to setting a standard
In 2008 when we bought in Fairmount in what many might argue, one of the worst parts of town. A crime ridden trash strewn neighborhood. We bought our house, a foreclosure, on a block of vacant homes for 4000.00 the typical value for anything vacant or occupied. Less that 10 years ago it had been a viable working class neighborhood, where the average home sold for around 50k. The neighborhood suffered from 8 years of two assaults. One from speculator/investors making Section 8 rentals who simply walked away when the real estate bubble burst and two, the City of Cincinnati's policies and vacant building task force had targeted the area resulting in the area being essentailly redlined. So with a deck of cards like that how do you turn things around?

Step one is "rebranding".": In doing research on the neighborhood we of course learned that the neighborhood had one been home to some of the most wealthy who built the homes as 'weekend or summer homes as they vistied the Schuezenbuckle. The area was refferred to historically as Knox's Hill. Rebranding became a no brainer and as a result Knox Hill was Born or should we say reborn. By distancing ourselves from the Fairmount "Brand" we also distanced ourselves from their failed brand and policies/views which had held the  neighborhood back Setting up a neighborhood website, facebook page and sending out regular press releases to the media and other neighborhood groups are key to establish your "brand'.

Step two is determining Assets and Liabilities: In our case neighborhood assets included, Proximity to downtown, Hillside views, no through traffic, quality affordable architecture, historic background. Liabilities were low owner occupancy rates, Vacant housing and bad city policies and perception the neighborhood was not worth saving.

Step three is establishing Goals and Strategy: We decided to identify existing owner occupants who were vested in the neighborhood. We also identifies some 'first steps' to build credibility. Those included media, and agressive public relations campaign to promote the Knox Hill Brand. We publically took on problems like the VBML and when a  Motorcycle gang, planed on moving into the area in a condemned building we took them on publically and (with cooperation from cthe city) were able to run them out of the neighborhood. We gave neighbors security cameras for their front porches. We cut the vacant lots the city left behind and were not maintaining, We stood in front of known drug dealers with cameras and every car coming and going had its picture taken. The drug dealers left. Crime has declined. We then went after absentee property owners, threatening receivership but giving them an olive branch we had people looking to buy. Most took that offer. Look at the target area block map to see the difference.

This house did not need a bulldozer, just an ownership change. CPA and Knox Hill fought to save this house. Now under restoration  rather than in a landfill. Next spring KHNA will help the new owner with a landscape plan and flowers

 We decided the demolitions had to stop and we filed a complaint with HUD over the failure of the city to conduct section 106 reviews.. We fought to see that properties on the list came off because they were viable and challenged inspection reports.

The neighborhood was a sea of RED in 2008 thanks to Foreclosures and city inspections.

The Red is disappearing as homes turn to owner occupied or are in preservation hands

If you look at the map the change has been significant. Still a long way to go but we have achieved more in a neighborhood the city largely wrote off than the city has with any of its projects and it was all done with NO federal monies.

The focus in our target area has had a ripple effect as blocks nearby are improving. New restorations are coming on line and the vacancy issue is slowly being reversed. Yes it will take time, But I would argue that small targeted approach achieve significant results rather than the big project approach of Cincinnati city Government. Now if the council would ask us how to turn around a neighborhood we can show them and if they will work with the neighborhood instead of against us we can do far more.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Preservationists needed at MSD Lick Run Design Workshop Aug 11th

The Preservation Community needs to make its voice heard at the first of three 'design workshops' that are being held by MSD concerning the Lick Run Alternative project that will be held Thursday 8/11. 6-9 PM, Robert Paideia Academy, 1702 Grand Ave. It will cover the whole watershed. A total of three workshops will be held culminating in a master plan. This is your chance to be heard on this project and voice Preservation concerns and at least go on record as trying to shape the future of this project ( although we know this is set in stone already and is just 'theatre' for MSD to show they 'engaged the public').
This row of historic Buildings would be demoed and lost forever

Issues we need to point out should include:

The high "carbon footprint', and cost of demolition of historic buildings taht could be part of the project.

Negative impact to our landfill and the possibility of this project increasing  local landfill fees as result.

Lack of public input concerning section 106 review and lack of any special public meetings on that.

Why the plan was changed from one that would have preserved the historic district and only daylighted East of Grand.


Why isn't the city pursuing a less invasive approach like Portland,Oregon , Toronto and other cities have of enacting a program to disconnect downspots from the sewer system. The Portland project which was recently completed keeps more that 1.2 Billion gallons of water out of the sewer system annually.

You can see how the program worked here:

We need to present this as a more cost effective solution. This combined with rain barrels and water gardens can accomplish much of the EPA requirement and save the utility hundreds of millions of dollars in cost. If the REAL goal is satisfying EPA and not another Urban Renewal scheme (which we know this is ) then MSD should pursue this approach and save histroic Fairmount. They can still do their "daylighting" East of Grand, but if your real goal is reducing stormwater in the CSO, then this is how you do it. We can preserve our history and comply with EPA at the same time.
The V&S Annex building is a one of a kind art deco masterpiece

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cincinnati DBL Hearing July 29th

3301 Price Ave, the Price Hill Masonic lodge: Clearly historic Eligible
The city nuisance, or as we call it the "Historic death board" hearing will be hel July 29th at 9 am at 3300 Central Parkway in the main conference room. Comments regarding historic significance  should be directed to Larry Harris at or you can call him at 513 352-4848

the following are on this list:

4845 Glenway Ave
1645 State Ave
1627 State Ave
1737 Elm Street
3774 Hutton Street
933 Wells Street
1222 Rutledge
3301 Price
6001 Yosemite
741 Sedam

Friday, July 15, 2011

Urban Conservators Meeting CANCELLED. Preservationists plan next steps

At 1:36 Thursday and blanket email was sent from the Urban Conservator office:

Subject Meeting Cancellation Notice: The Urban Conervators hearing scheduled for July 15,2011 AM in the Martin Grisel Room has been cancelled.

No reason was given.

Preservationists breathed a sigh of relief but what's next?

Obviously this is not simply going away. Efforts to contact the Attorney General's office regarding the notification issue and hundreds of emails flooding the city council may have actually paid off. The bigger issue is how do we slow this process down further as this was likely the 'opening salvo' of the county land bank which seems less about banking property and more about demoing property.

Several issues have not gone away. First and foremost that these properties were already declared a nuisance without the benefit. of proper Section 106 review. That review was critical PRIOR to an actual nuisance declaration as under Federal Section 106 guidelines , in the event a property were determined historic the city is required to do a finding of adverse effect and the city is required to perform a further evaluation and explore the costs of stabilization rather than demo and that evaluation would have to be part of the actual nuisance hearing before a nuisance board.

The question now becomes are those properties ALREADY DECLARED a nuisance actually, "legally" a nuisance and given by the city request for these 106 hearings should the original declarations be invalidated and  new nuisance hearings convened.

I believe they should and that is why I intend to send a request to the city attorney asking for legal justification for these nuisance declaration to remain on these properties and ask the city how they expect to deal with a proper notification issue since these properties were declared a nuisance without the benefit of the proper 106 review in the first place.  The legal owners of these properties were 'denied' a process, in this case the opportunity to present evidence of historic eligibility and as a result the nuisance declaration is now part of an "illegal taking" of a property, with the use of Federal CDBG funds..

Based on that all property currently under a nuisance declaration MUST revert back to a condemn status.
Section 106 review process must occur BEFORE the nusiance declarations take place.There must also be waiting period as preservationists if they disagree with the Urban Conservators position  and choose to file a review request with OHPO. This, of course, ONLY applies to properties over 50 year old.

I will be curious to see their response

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Preservationists up stakes in Friday 106 hearing with AG complaints

This property on Moosewood, a turreted Queen Anne is viewed by experts as eligile and  candidate for restoaration (photo courtesy auditor)
Historic Preservationists are raising  the stakes in the Section 106 review process with complaints to the State Attorney General office, raising the issue of if the meeting called with only seven days notice and without notifications of property owners, neighborhod groups or Community Council Presidents violates the State of Ohio , open meeting laws.

More complaints will be filed today.

Knox Hill sent email to Michael Cervey, Ed Cunningham,  Larry Harris, Paula Boggs Muething and the mayors office advising them that Knox Hill neighborhood was filing a complaint with the AG's office amd  the meeting went on as planned that the neighborhood was preparing a  formal federal "Citizens Complaint" to the Department of Housing and Urban development (HUD) that administeres the CDBG (community Development Block Grant) program, specifically calling into question if the notice meets Federal guildines and if Mr Harris is properly performing his responsibilities under a programmatic agreement entered into between the City and OHPO.

This rare Shingle mansion was once home to Emery Barton,art dealer and noted author of two books on Art. Often an improperly trained Urban Conservator will determine a house just on architecture (and changes) and not perform a historical search which is why proper public input through section 106 is critical (photo courtesy CPA FB website)
The draft complaint may be revised to include the County if it is determined that these demolitions are connected to the county land banking program. As was noted yesterday in a Cincinnati Enquirer article the land bank is being modeled after one in Cuyohoga Country that has spent millions in acquisition and demolition but has yet to attract any real redevelopment. The Hamilton County plan pulls monies from several programs and many question if the county would have any sucess at actual 'development" or if the demolition of restorable Historic property would hinder many neighborhoods effors at turnaround by eliminating viable historic housing stock.

One Preservationist is getting ready to circulate a petition seeking the termination or reassignment of Larry Harris as the Urban Conservator.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cincinnati attempts to abuse Section 106 process Again! Hearing July 15th

2131Colerain (blue building) and the one right of it, are intact historic structures on an intact block, the demolition of these buildings would  have an adverse effect on the neighborhood. Amazingly neither structure has been deemed historic eligible by the Urban Conservator.
In a move to deliberately circumvent the public notification and engagement of the Preservation Community. Larry Harris, the city Urban Conservator, is holding a section 106 review hearing in a deliberate back door attempt to get over 100 properties already declared a public nuisance without the benefit of proper section 106 review, "reviewed". 
Also deemed , not eligible, by the conservator was this Italianate mansion

These properties, many of which are already put out for bid using Federal CDBG funds are the latest attempt by the City of Cincinnati to circumvent the Historic Preservation review process and presumabaly get as many set for demo using Federal dollars which in todays tough political climate, are funds that may be going away.

This 1860 Italianate cottage on beekman is part of a cluster of brick structures. We presume the reason for this being 'ineligible ' due to the window and door, The only non historic elements on an otherwise  time capsule structure
The 'public notice' sent by Mr Harris was emailed to exactly 22 people 2 of which were city employess Ed Cunningham and Al Taylor.

Suspiciously absent from this list were Community Council leaders, neighborhood groups and even Cincinnati Preservation Asociation which is the local consulting party for section 106 review.. The 'notice' was sent out on Friday and this 'sham hearing" is set for Friday July 15th at 10 am at the J. Martin Griesel Room. there are 134 properties on that list and of them only 6 have been determined to have any 'historic value acording to the Urban Conervator Larry Harris who holds an architecture degree but not a degree or training in Historic preservation. Those 'deemed elibible' should undergo an evaluation by city inspections to determine if stabilization should occur, that is if that part of the Section 106 review proces is even followed.

Ironically , many of these properties have changed hands and the owner of record appears to not have even been notified, raising the question if the city could face lawsuits  due to the lack of process.

The historic preservation community has been scrambling in an attempt to collect data and do research on this many properties. Many believe this process may violate state law due to the timing of the notice and the lack of widespread public notice. Additionally Knox Hill Neighborhood Association held a special board meeting and have authorized the filing of a new Federal citizens complaint with HUD . At  least two other community groups are considering a similar complaint and Knox Hill has already sent out emails to Congresional leaders Monday, currently reviewing HUD and CDBG funding abuse.

Larry Harris the Urban Conservator may be reached at 513-352-4848 FAX 513-352-4853 or by email at

Please let him know how YOU feel about this latest attempt to abuse the section 106 review process.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Welcome to MPH: Making Preservation Happen

Welcome to MPH, Making Preservation Happen. Why here? why now? The answer is simple. Cincinnati preservation is at a critical stage. The Gamble House hangs in the balance, we have lost key properties in OTR due to the Cincinnati Public Schools, Euclid street is history. In the last 6 years the City of Cincinnati has demoed over 600 properties with thousands on a 'doomed list' with either a VBML (Vacant Building Maintenance License) or a condemn order on them.

Over 100 properties head for  'sham hearing' this Friday called by our Urban Conservator who has neither the qualifications or desire to advocate for real preservation. The South Fairmount business/residential district is in danger of demolition due to a glorified drainage ditch by MSD. Expansion by Universities, hospitals and private developers threaten our historic architecture. We have a city leadership that does not understand the value of historic preservation as an Economic Development tool. A city that sees CDBG funds, Community DEVELOPMENT block grant monies as Community DEMOLITION Block Grant Funds and payroll funding source.

Saying "please can we save this or that property",  does not work. the City of Cincinnati runs over history because they can. There is no real preservation advocacy or leadership as there is in other cities. Certainly CPA does what it can but with a staff of four, minimal budget and a focus on Preservation education we can not expect them to stand up for Preservation in a way that it is really needed.

At the same time we have small successes . The Gamble House stands, for the moment, because of people like Bob Prokop and the grass roots save the Gamble House group. Properties are getting into Preservation minded hand thanks to groups like OTRADOPT. Knox Hill is turning their neighborhood around through Preservation advocacy. Young people are entering Preservation everyday as there is a new Urbanist  Movement back downtown. All over town, people are restoring homes. We need MORE of that. New ideas and new energy!

However there is no connection between these groups and their is no solidarity when an issue hits one neighborhood, Cincinnati MPH is start at making that happen.

How? By acting as a preservation resource center. A place where local preservationists can share what they are doing in their neighborhood. I do not expect to write this blog single handed. What I expect is your help. Help with stories about what is going on in your neighborhood. What are you doing right and what are your obstacles. Who is making a difference in Preservation in your community? We will also cover news from other cities and see if we can learn from and adapt what they are doing to our city. We will regularly present Preservation opportunities, homes that need an advocate. We will partner with the business community and corporations locally to start "small focus" projects that will create interest in historic neighborhoods long forgotten. Our goal will be to bring people back to Cincinnati and use our Historic Architecture to make Cincinnati a real destination.

This blog, by itself, will not make preservation happen, however it can be a starting point. We need to start a real conversation among those of us who are actually doing something  about the direction of preservation in this city. Clearly we can identify obstacles like the VBML and our 'broken section 106 review system as key issues. We also must do a  better job of advocacy and education to the community and  to the city.

We also need to create some new systems for Preservation in this city. things like a Preservation Action Response Team (P.A.R.T) to get the word out when these preservation emergencies arise and coordinate a grass roots effort and coordinate with the media to raise public awarness  to put pressure on city leaders to stop demolition. We will need to form a coalition of urban historic neighborhoods  and block clubs to act as one voice for preservation, a unified voice.

Ultimately we need a take charge, take no prisoners, preservation group that will fight to save our history, not just 'pick and choose' which battles they think they can win. By fighting vigorously for preservation, as other cities do, we will make the city realize that if they choose to demo they will have fight EVERY TIME. Those fights take time and resources at the city and monies they do not have. Eventually the first choice of the city will not be the bulldozer.

Some short term goals, a website within 30 days, and  a facebook page. Longer term goals a Preservation based organization.that will make  a real difference and save our history before its in landfill and Cincinnati is just another faceless city

Initially this blog will not be a daily blog, how much content is here will depend in part of you. My other blog , Victorian Antiquities and Design will focus on its core restoration and period design. This blog will focus on providing a mechanism to Make Preservation Happen.

Your thoughts, your ideas, and your help, will make this happen, as always you can contact me direct at