Wednesday, April 28, 1999

Petitions seek to save old Lebanon buildings

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Although a proposal to demolish a historic home is on the back burner, business owners and residents are worried council isn't committed to historic preservation.

        “Lebanon is leaving its character and its heritage one building, one business and one person at a time,” said resident and business owner Dan Tormey.

        “I'm afraid that this city and this council will be judged not by the monuments it built, but by those they have destroyed.”

        As evidence, residents pointed to recent proposals within the city:

        • City officials requested, then withdrew, a proposal to demolish an 1880s home at 5-7 Cherry St.

        • One business owner said Lebanon Public Library officials have told him they plan to tear down three historic buildings, including the one he rents, to make way for a larger parking lot.

        Downtown business owner Joan Townsend presented council with 540 signatures on petitions opposing the destruction of historic buildings and existing businesses.

        The petitions aren't binding, but Ms. Townsend said she wanted council to see public sentiment was against any effort to raze the block bounded by Main, Mulberry, Mechanic and Cherry streets. She intends to forward the petitions to Brandstetter Carroll, a Lexington-based consultant the city is paying $37,000 to mold a downtown master plan.

        “We're worried someone will (adopt) a plan that doesn't take historic preservation seriously,” Ms. Town send said.

        To ignore historic preservation is to strike at the foundation of Lebanon, Mr. Tormey said.

        The city's small-town values and historic character drew him to Lebanon five years ago to establish a business, Liberty Western, on Main Street. When he started renting the property, library officials told him long-term plans included knocking down the building to expand parking.

        “I took it with a grain of salt,” Mr. Tormey said. “I never thought they would tear this building down.”

        But that has been the library board's intention for nearly a decade, since the board spent more than $300,000 in the early 1990s to purchase three properties, director Ray Nienaber said.

        The library has 23 parking spots, but it's not enough to accommodate the customers who check out an average of 270,000 books and other resources each year, Mr. Nienaber said.

        Despite the need for a parking lot, Mr. Nienaber said, the library board has no immediate plan to tear down the buildings, which he said had no historical significance as far as he knew.

        Mr. Tormey admits his interest in saving the building at 23 W. Main St. is, in part, self-serving. The location is perfect, he said, and he can't afford to start over.

        But, the 1850s house also is a piece of Lebanon's history, he said. It served as a hospital during the Civil War.

        Last week, city officials dropped a request to demolish the 5-7 Cherry St. property. On Tuesday, council voted 4-3 to appropriate $150,000 for the property.


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