Friday, January 19, 2001

Proposed UC mansion draws fire

Neighbors call design gaudy

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The University of Cincinnati wants to develop one of Clifton's most historic pieces of land into a new mansion for its president, a plan that has angered neighbors and frustrated preservationists.

        UC officials have been quietly orchestrating a series of complicated land transactions and agreements to allow development of the mansion and dining facility. It could handle up to 80 guests on land once owned by the Rawson family, which operated a large pork-packing op eration.

        The mansion is needed because UC President Joseph A. Steger's smaller home at Lafayette and Middleton avenues is inadequate for high-powered fund-raising events, UC spokesman Greg Hand said Thursday.

        Some neighborhood residents have a word for the proposed mansion: gaudy.

        Preliminary designs are so out of character with the neighborhood that the Cincinnati Preservation Association is withholding its crucial approval of a swap of property on which the house is to be built, according to its executive director, Beth Sullebarger.

        “We think the design could be more compatible,” she said. “We object to its current form.”

        The proposed mansion links two rectangular structures over a patio area where guests can mingle. One structure would include a large kitchen and a dining area that could handle up to 80 guests. The other structure would be the president's living area.

        Patsy Morrison, who lives across Clifton Avenue from the proposed mansion, said it “looks like a lodge.”

        She said it doesn't mesh with the two historic Rawson homes on either side: a simple yellow Victorian and an Italian villa with a stone and brick exterior and wrought-iron railings.

        UC's architect, Ron Kull, along with Mr. Steger, the UC Foundation and others, has been leading the effort to develop the mansion, Mr. Hand said.

        The foundation, which would benefit from improved fund raising, is expected to pay most of the bill. The balance would come from the sale of the current president's home on Lafayette. Mr. Hand didn't know how much the home would cost.

        As UC president, Mr. Steger would live in the house until he retires. His contract expires June 30, 2002, and he hasn't said whether he will seek another term.

        Mr. Hand said UC has tried to keep the neighborhood informed by presenting details of the proposal to the Clifton Town Meeting.

        Clifton Town Meeting President Jack Brand declined to talk about the home because of a conflict. He owns a parcel abutting the back end of the proposed mansion. He also owns a construction firm and plans to bid on the home.

        “It's the type of work I do,” said Mr. Brand. “I am staying out of the whole discussion.”

        The land in question is bordered by Clifton, McAlpin, Middleton and Warren (named after a Rawson) avenues.

        Marion Rawson donated a yellow Victorian home on a large parcel to the UC Foundation more than two decades ago. There was a condition: the university block most development.

        The only acceptable development, according to deed records, include: a conference center, a guest house, foundation or administrative headquarters, educational programs or housing.

        On Nov. 6, 2000, the foundation filed a quitclaim deed transferring ownership of the property to the UC Board of Trustees.

        UC plans to swap that parcel with an undeveloped 5-acre parcel immediately north, which is owned by the preservation association.

        The preservationists want control of the UC land so it can preserve the Victorian home, which has no official historic designation.

        Another stakeholder is Dr. Ronald Gall, who owns the Italian villa north of the preservationists' land.

        At UC's request, Mr. Gall has agreed to drop a right of first refusal on the land to allow its development, Ms. Sullebarger said.

        The preservationists are balking at the deal because it would bring a large, circular driveway and parking on the lot that is now open space.

        Ms. Sullebarger said UC will have to find another place for the parking before her group approves the deal.


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