Tuesday, January 23, 2001

UC going ahead with mansion over city's objection

State law doesn't require local permits

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The University of Cincinnati doesn't plan to seek formal approval from city officials before developing a historic property into a multimillion-dollar president's mansion — even though city policy requires it.

        Unlike most private developers, UC's and other projects built on state-owned land within Cincinnati aren't subject to the city's building permit requirements and the accompanying scrutiny of a building inspector.

        And even though the city asks the university to obtain a zoning certificate before starting construction, the UC official overseeing the effort to build the mansion on the Rawson property in Clifton said he wasn't aware of the requirement.

        “That is news to me,” UC Architect Ron Kull said. “Our building permits are issued from the state. I don't know anything about” the city's required zoning certificate of compliance.

        Mr. Kull said the proposed site of the $2 million-plus mansion on Clifton Avenue is zoned residential, which should allow construction of a home no matter how large. He said he has had informal talks with the city's zoning department and thinks the project jibes with zoning requirements.

        Because the proposed mansion includes a large dining/entertainment hall that could seat up to 80 people, neighbors say it's no ordinary home and should be subject to a zoning review.

        “If you or I build a house, we have to get approval of the city of Cincinnati,” said Michael Ramundo, one of several Clifton neighbors who object to the size, appearance and location of the mansion. “It is very clear that the institution has been arrogant.”

        Permits for projects on

        land owned by the university or other state agencies are issued by the Ohio Department of Commerce's Division of Industrial Compliance. The state requires UC to submit detailed plans and sends building inspectors to check various stages of construction.

        City fire inspectors also are called at the project's conclusion to make sure the building meets fire safety codes. But the state doesn't send copies of the development's plans to the city's building or zoning officials.

        The city normally checks zoning requirements when a developer submits plans to get a building permit.

        When the building is on state-owned land and doesn't require a city-issued building permit, the city asks the developer to submit plans in order to get a zoning certificate of compliance, said David Gecks, the city's assistant director of license and permits.

        “We still have to say they comply with the zoning code,” Mr. Gecks said.

        The city would especially be interested in reviewing a plan as large as the proposed UC mansion. Residential developments have certain limitations on driveway access and parking — two areas that have stirred the emotions of the Clifton neighborhood.

        “Parking arrangements in residential zones are restricted,” Mr. Gecks said. “If we had a complaint about it, we'd have to look at it.”

        Mr. Gecks said his department would try to work with a developer who failed to get a zoning approval rather than taking a harsher measure such as issuing a stop-work order during an expensive project. But that's within the city's power.

        The city's lack of oversight for UC and other state projects within city limits “is a sore spot with me,” said Paul Myers, Cincinnati's assistant director of buildings and inspections. “Unfortunately, that is the way the system works.”

        The Cincinnati Preservation Association agreed to swap land with UC for the mansion only if university officials meet certain requirements.

        The preservationists think the initial drawings don't mesh with the historic nature of the site, which is between a simple yellow Victorian home and an Italian villa once owned by the Rawsons, a prominent Clifton family that ran a pork-packing business.

        The preservationists will withhold support — and keep their land — until the university revises the design to blend with the adjacent 19th century homes.

        Mr. Kull said the university will meet with its architect to discuss altering the plans.

        Neighbors plan to demonstrate their displeasure with the mansion at the next Clifton Town Meeting on Feb. 5.

        “We are calling for the entire city of Cincinnati to show up,” Mr. Ramundo said. “It is up to the people as to how they want to be treated.”


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