Saturday, January 27, 2001

Two councilmen take aim at crumbling buildings


Repeal pushed of law to protect properties in Over-the-Rhine

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two Cincinnati city councilmen say a law written to protect buildings and low-income housing in Over-the-Rhine has instead encouraged property owners to let buildings crumble.

        Councilmen Pat DeWine and Jim Tarbell want to repeal the city law so developers can revitalize the historic neighborhood's gems while making it easier to bulldoze some abandoned buildings that have little value.

        Their target is the Neighborhood Housing Retention ordinance, which requires owners intending to demolish low-income housing to reimburse the city $4 per square foot or replace it with similar new housing.

[photo] Council members Pat DeWine (left) and Jim Tarbell, outside an abandoned building at 203 W. McMicken Ave., will introduce a motion to repeal policy on old buildings.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        Only two building owners have paid the fund in 19 years.

        Rather than paying a costly demolition fee, owners have waited until the buildings become a public hazard and Cincinnati orders the buildings demolished because of health and safety concerns.

        “We hope this will get rid of some of these abandoned buildings,” said Mr. DeWine, who promotes development of office space and housing for all income levels in Over- the-Rhine.

        Mr. Dewine and Mr. Tarbell will introduce a motion next week asking City Council not to renew the ordinance when it expires May 15. They say the proposal offers some protection because it will require that owners first get approval from the city's Historic Conservation Board before tearing down a building.

        Low-income housing advocates fear it will strip an important protection for the city's poorest and open up the neighborhood to widespread development and dis placement.

        “To repeal it now may be a little premature,” said Thomas A. Dutton, a Miami University professor and member of the low-income housing advocate Over-the-Rhine Housing Network. “It tries to stop wholesale destruction of the neighborhood for things like parking lots.”

        Bill Langevin, the city's Department of Buildings and Inspections director, agrees that the law effectively halts careless demolition of the historic neighborhood. But it's helped give Over-the-Rhine the most concentrated stockpile of abandoned buildings.

        Abandoned buildings citywide dropped from 1,500 to fewer than 1,000 over the last 10 years, but Over-the-Rhine's abandoned building count hasn't changed much, ranging from 220 to 258.

        Mr. Langevin frequently gets calls from owners who ask whether enough of their building has rotted away for the structure to be judged a public nuisance.

        “It inspires demolition by neglect,” Mr. Langevin said. “That is the only way around not paying the $4 per square foot.”

        Under the proposal, the conservation board would be asked to determine a property's “economic viability and historical significance” before approving demolition.

        That should encourage developers to renovate some older buildings for housing instead of just destroying a building, Mr. DeWine said.

        By itself, the proposed ordinance won't do much good in encouraging development of Over-the-Rhine, Mr. DeWine acknowledged. He said other reforms are needed, like simplifying the city's historic code and targeting housing funds to lure private developers to Over-the-Rhine.

        Bob Schneider, Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce president, said any demolition must be done responsibly.

        “It's inevitable that some buildings will have to go so others can be developed,” Mr. Schneider said.
       



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