Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Letter: Alternative to historic preservation must be found

I read with interest the editorial in the March 1, edition of the Enquirer ("OTR Proposal: Keep protections"). My proposal to remove the local historic designations may seem too aggressive to some, but no one has argued that something is not needed to jumpstart development in the area.

Before I proceed with the merits of this proposal, I would like to offer some clarification for the benefit of citizens who may not understand the details of this situation. Over-the-Rhine actually has three different designations: 1) A federal historic designation; 2) A local designation for Over-the-Rhine North; and 3) A local designation for Over-the-Rhine South. The federal designation applies when an investor seeks federal assistance for a project. The investor must adhere to the federal guidelines that govern the preservation and restoration of a building or buildings. If a project does not request federal assistance, then the investor would have the option of razing the building or buildings.

With the current local ordinances in place, an investor must present the proposal to the Historic Conservation Board for approval. No demolition can occur without this approval, unless the building is in immediate danger of collapse, and it presents a clear-and-present danger to citizens. The purpose of this type of legislation is to retain as many of the mid-19th century original structures as possible. Over-the-Rhine is considered the largest collection of historic buildings in the country. But how far do we go in order to maintain this reputation? Do we kill the spirit of the law by trying to keep the letter of the law?

There are a number of important factors to be considered in this issue. The first issue is the economic issue. Professional developers become disillusioned because in some cases, it is more economical to demolish a building and build new development, rather than meet the more costly requirement of redeveloping. Yet, in some instances, when the developer explains this to the Historic Conservation Board, they are denied the option of demolishing the building. I have had a number of developers express this frustration to me or to members of my staff.

A second factor is health and safety. In certain cases, a certified property manager can make a determination that a building is no longer viable. When the case goes before the Historic Conservation Board, however, the board has the flexibility to keep the building from being demolished, even though a Certified Property Manager determined that the building is no longer useable. In some cases, property owners even use this provision to their advantage, and claim that the city will not allow them to take their building down. It is imperative that loopholes in the law be closed, so that irresponsible property owners can be dealt with until they either comply with the orders or sell their properties.

I am currently working on another proposal that will be a compromise between what is currently in place and the proposal of total removal of the overlays. I am confident we can reach a consensus or a proposal that will achieve both the preservation of historic buildings in good condition, as well as provide exciting, economically sound investment opportunities for potential developers.

I am committed to seeing a new and exciting Over-the-Rhine community. I know, however, that change of this magnitude requires aggressive, decisive action. The solution is not simple; to attempt to make progress at a snail's pace is unacceptable. At the same time, I understand the concern of the potential of widespread demolition should the overlays be removed without alternative plans to replace them.

I have stated from the beginning that I do not envision this plan as being the magic cure that will solve all of the problems in Over-the-Rhine. This is one component that, when working in concert with other corrective policies, can have a very positive, long term impact on the community.

I believe that Over-the-Rhine holds a bright future, if we work together to carefully balance the economic issues and the aesthetic issues. We can work together to build a better Over-the-Rhine and a better Cincinnati.

Paul M. Booth, Cincinnati City Council

Diplomatic window: Closes
NCAA hoops: Madness Central

Letter: Alternative to historic preservation must be found
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