Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Lawsuit may not save house

City negotiating to protect home damaged by fire

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — The city's lawsuit to seize what could be its oldest house may not be enough to save the building.

        A November fire at the Federal-style house at 27 N. Mechanic St. left part of the interior exposed to the elements, and despite the lawsuit filed three weeks ago, it remains unprotected.

        “It's like a giant piece of ice, melting bit by bit,” Jerry Miller, a leader of the Lebanon Conservancy Foundation, said after the weekend's rainy weather. “In six months, there won't be anything left.”

        After the fire, the conservancy foundation covered the roof with tarps to prevent rain and snow from further damaging the building. They were removed after businessman John McComb bought the building in February, intending to tear it down and add parking.

        After several months of debate in the community, City Council decided last month to step in and prevent the house's demolition. Eminent domain law allows the city to make Mr. McComb sell the property. Because the sides can't agree on a price, the courts will decide that, but probably not for a year or more.

        City Attorney Mark Yurick is negotiating with Mr. McComb's lawyer to let the city protect the house.

        “It's not as easy as it might seem because we would have to enter a property that doesn't belong to us and secure a building that doesn't belong to us,” Mr. Yurick said. “If anything should happen — say they cover it with a tarp and somebody throws a cigarette at the tarp and burns down three buildings in addition to the house — who's responsi ble for the damage?”

        Mr. Yurick said he hopes to reach agreement by the end of the week.

        Mr. McComb indicated he has no objections to the city's protecting the house. “I've been saying that for four months,” he said. “I don't think I need to answer that question.”

        The house is thought to have been built around 1808, possibly by Shakers. The front of the house, which has a symmetrical facade with two rooms upstairs and two downstairs, is the original part. It has at least one addition doubling the size of the house, but the city likely would not restore that part.


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