Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Back at square one, Anna Louise Inn gets first approval

Cincinnati's Historic Conservation Board on Monday voted to approve a staff report endorsing a certificate of appropriateness (COA) for Cincinnati Union Bethel's renovation and expansion of the Anna Louise Inn, which provides affordable, permanent supportive housing for women in Downtown's Lytle Park Historic District.

The approval, a clarification of a COA issued last year, is the first step made necessary following a lawsuit settled by Common Pleas Court Judge Norbert Nadel, who remanded the case back to square one after finding that a Zoning Board of Appeals decision that the building was a conforming use was incorrect.

"I don't regard this case as having been settled," said Tim Burke, attorney for Cincinnati Union Bethel. "It has been decided by Judge Nadel."

Additionally, Nadel said that the building permit and the COA had been issued out of sequence, and that the COA should have included conditions of the approval – that the building's rooftop mechanicals be moved north, and that Cincinnati Union Bethel receive approval from the Ohio Historic Preservation Office for the new aluminum clad wood windows.

Both of those conditions have since been met, but the nonprofit will have to appear before the board in the future to have the building classified as a conditional use as a special assistance shelter.

"It will involve a number of witnesses," Burke said. "It will probably be quite a long hearing."

Cincinnati Union Bethel wants to spend $13 million to expand the building's fifth floor, reduce the number of affordable units for women from 160 to 85, and add kitchens and restrooms to each apartment.

Burke said that the development probably wouldn't happen without the COA. The project risks losing $2.6 million in state historic tax credits if construction doesn't begin soon.

Western & Southern Financial Group has been eyeing the site, at 300 Lytle Street, for upscale condominiums. The company has offered $3 million, or the higher of two appraisals, for the property.

C. Francis Barrett, attorney for Western & Southern Financial Group, said that his clients' purchase of the air rights over Lytle Park is the main reason the historic district continues to exist.

"Western & Southern is the single most-responsible entity for the future of Lytle Park," he said. "If they hadn't done that, I-71 would go right through Lytle Park. There would be no Lytle Park. There is no one more committed to historic preservation than they are."

Other business

In other business, the board:
  • Granted a COA for the rehabilitation of 1612 Elm Street into seven efficiency apartments and a commercial storefront, and granted variances allowing for the increased density and dropping the parking requirement from 11 to zero. Northside-based Porch Swing Properties expects to have the project completed within two years.
  • Denied a staff recommendation for a COA and variance for an eight-foot wrought iron fence at 40 E McMicken Avenue. McMicken Health Collaborative wants the fence to protect a "helping hands" statue at Susan's Garden, an outdoor oasis currently under construction in front of the building. Current guidelines only allow for a six-foot fence.
  • Discussed the overabundance of hearing items relating to density and parking variances in Over-the-Rhine. "Why did these things get zoned RM-1.2 in the first place?" Historic Conservation Board Chair John Senhauser said. "We seem to spend more than half of our time on doing density and parking requirements, instead of historic preservation." He added that the board is obviously not going to vote against increased density in the neighborhood, and would always override parking requirements with so many vacant lots. "We're not even talking about the rehab of the building [1612 Elm Street]," he said. "Zoning is supposed to be a tool to make things easier to approve. But zoning is simply in our way."

Previous reading on BC:
3CDC, Model Group to highlight affordable housing options (3/16/12)
City sides with Anna Louise Inn over developer (1/31/11)
OHFA awards $2M in affordable housing tax credits to Anna Louise Inn, North Rhine (7/5/10)