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.

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