BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FALMOUTH - The numbers of building permits approved and buyout forms taken seem to indicate the future is evenly split between residents willing to bet on a new beginning and those who have had enough.
Two days after the buyout forms became available, 100 are gone, city clerk's secretary Ilean Koettell said Friday. And since April 3, 90 building permits have been filed and approved.
City officials are not surprised by the split. They say an earlier ballot indicated the owners of 168 pieces of property wanted a buyout.
At the same time, the council has heard from dozens of residents who say they will rebuild, councilman Jeff Carson said.
With every approved building permit comes a fluorescent orange certificate that people post in their windows. Orange is becoming a symbol for rebirth and life. A sign, a hope, that Falmouth might be OK after all. At least three homes on many streets in the most damaged part of town show the large orange permits.
Between many of the homes with orange signs are empty lots of mud- and water-damaged homes left for the wrecking ball. These are the properties likely to sell in the buyout.
Not giving up
Karen Stephens doesn't let the devastation surrounding her home squelch her excitement.
She focuses instead on the vans and trucks parked outside homes on Barkley, Pendleton and Fifth streets. Inside, contractors and carpenters are busy tacking up walls and laying floors.
The repairs are being made on rental and owner-occupied units.
Mrs. Stephens burns debris in her back yard and soaks in the ''new-house'' smell of her home at least a few hours every day.
The house on Falmouth Street has crystal-clear windows and clean, fresh two-by-fours for walls.
''I don't want anything more than this,'' Mrs. Stephens said as she surveyed the outlines of rooms on her first floor.
She and her family - husband Shelby, son Larry Fain, 18, and daughter Becky Fain, 15 - have rented the house for eight years.
Now they are scattered, the kids living with friends so they can attend Pendleton County High School.
''I'm excited just to be able to walk in my front door,'' Mrs. Stephens said. ''I can't get over the idea that our family is so scattered now.''
Others share her enthusiasm, but it is enthusiasm dampened with a touch of hopelessness. For many, the decision to stay is being made because of fear and uncertainty.
Fred Richie is repairing his home on Dickerson. He doesn't know whether the buyout will happen, or if it's right to leave the city, so he'll keep what he has.
Nothing left to fix
For other residents, the buyout is the only choice.
Without a house - or the foundation of one - left to rebuild, many are choosing to get what money they can and start over elsewhere.
Ann Howard, who lost a home on Woodson Street, found she doesn't qualify for a grant or a loan. Neither do her mother and daughter, who lived in the house.
''I just have no choice but this,'' she said, standing outside city hall, holding the folded buyout form.
As she talks about her frustrations, she starts to cry, covering her face.
Destroyed with the house were Mrs. Howard's tools and supplies for her craft-making business, including her kiln.
''It just blows my mind. I lost the house and everything for my business, and I can get nothing,'' she said. ''It's an uphill battle.''