Sunday, May 13, 2001

Court battle over 1808 house

Lebanon notes history, but owner wants parking lot

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — The city and a former councilman will square off in court Monday over the value of Lebanon's oldest standing house.

        “It's probably the first real house built in Lebanon” other than log cabins, said Gerald Miller, treasurer of the Lebanon Conservancy Foundation.

        City Council wants to buy 27 N. Mechanic St. from owner John McComb, whom voters ousted in 1999. Mr. McComb, who owns other nearby properties, wants to tear down the fire-damaged building and enlarge a parking lot there.

        The conservancy — a private preservation group — persuaded City Council a year ago to seize the house through its powers of eminent domain. Now a jury will decide what the city must pay Mr. McComb for it.

        The city's appraisal put the value at $89,000. Mr. McComb, who paid $75,000 for the property in early 2000, had it appraised for $360,000.

        The loss of the parking spaces — a rare commodity downtown — makes it worth far more than the value of the building, Mr. McComb has contended.

        Preservationists, however, say the house itself is irreplaceable and a priceless part of the city's history.

        If City Council decides after the trial that it doesn't want to pay the jury's price, it will have 90 days to back out, City Attorney Mark Yurick said. However, Lebanon would then have to pay Mr. McComb's legal and appraisal fees.

        The house was built in 1808 — possibly by Shakers, according to conservancy research. It has an elliptical fanlight and a symmetrical facade — both typical of Federal-style houses.

        It was badly damaged in a fire 18 months ago and has been exposed to rain and other elements for much of the time since.

        However, the conservancy may be able to pay for the entire cost of restoration, Mr. Miller said last week.


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