Thursday, August 2, 2012

North Fairmount nonprofit proposes alternative settlement to $16K lawsuit

An attorney representing the North Fairmount Community Center (NFCC) believes that the City of Cincinnati has taken a "heavy-handed" approach when it comes to more than $16,000 in accrued fines and penalties, and have proposed an alternative settlement to a lawsuit it filed in May 2011.

In a letter to City Council, attorney Charles F. Hertlein, Jr. of Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP, which is representing NFCC on a pro bono basis, said that the nonprofit does not dispute $15,337.50 it owes for trash cans and dumpsters, long grass, and litter on the 130-plus properties it owns.

The City has agreed to accept $11,500 in a full settlement, with 50 percent to be paid up front and the remainder to be paid in installments.

NFCC cannot afford to pay.

Instead, NFCC has proposed within the past two weeks a settlement under which it would put two properties on the market. If and when either sells, it would pay the settlement in full. In the meantime, NFCC would pay the City $100 per month for the rest of 2012, $500 per month starting in January 2013, and $1,000 per month starting in June 2013.

The City rejected the proposal, but countered with an offer to accept higher installment amounts.

Says City complicit

In more than 30 years, NFCC has rehabilitated more than 100 single-family homes and 46 rental units for low-income residents, rehabilitated two school buildings, developed the 44-unit McHenry House senior apartment building, and brought the Hopple Street Neighborhood Health Center to the neighborhood.

The majority of its property holdings, located in North Fairmount and East Westwood, are being land banked for future residential and commercial development.

"The City has not been willing to recognize any of the positive good NFCC has done for the City over the years, or even the fact that NFCC acquired the properties in question for the benefit of the neighborhood and the City, with no profit motive whatsoever," Hertlein said.

In fact, NFCC believes that the City should cooperate because it's complicit in the problems.

Until a couple of years ago, the City's Health Department would advise the NFCC of violations at its properties before fines were issued, and adult and juvenile probation crews would perform the cleanup.

"For some reason the Health Department ceased this practice and chose to abruptly issue citations with no advance opportunity to address the problems, and the Probation Department ceased cooperating as well," Hertlein said.

He also cited as a problem the "midnight dumping" by contactors looking to avoid the cost of proper refuse disposal – some contractors of the City itself. Some store equipment and materials on the properties without permission.

And City policy has actively hurt NFCC's ability to pay the fines, Hertlein said, because the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati's purchase of properties as part of its Denham Watershed sewer project have not panned out as planned.

"The Metropolitan Sewer District induced NFCC to sell certain properties at below market prices with promises of rent-loss offset compensation which it now refuses to pay NFCC," Hertlein said.

NFCC is hopeful of a settlement – and soon. A report from the City's Law Department is due before City Council by the end of the month.

"These parties should be working cooperatively, not adversarially," Hertlein said.

Previous reading on BC:
Photos: North Fairmount and East Westwood (7/15/10)
North Fairmount asks for City relief (5/27/10)