Monday, January 17, 2011

City committee to consider task force recommendations on historic buildings

Distressed buildings along W 5th St, some
of which are in the process of being
This Wednesday at 2 P.M. in Council Chambers, Cincinnati City Council's Livable Communities Committee is set to consider a motion to implement a set of policy recommendations that could help balance blight remediation with historic preservation, thereby saving more of the City's endangered historic buildings.

The committee will review the fourth and final set of recommendations from the Historic Building Loss Task Force, an all-volunteer body formed in October 2009.

Among the eleven specific changes outlined in the motion include changes in the Vacant Building Maintenance License (VBML) and Board of Housing Appeals; deletion from the building code of all mentions of the Director of Buildings and Inspections – a position which no longer exists; an examination of a fully-funded receivership program; and a directive to work with the county on regional land bank legislation, a mechanism made possible through the passage of Ohio Sub. HB 313 last April.

The report also seeks to empower the public by making the agendas of the City's various administrative boards up-to-date and more widely available, similar to the City Council and Council committee agendas offered on the City's website. Currently, most boards only publish their agendas in the City Bulletin and one, the Historic Conservation Board, didn't update its website once in 2010.

One office targeted

Perhaps the most ineffective administrative body identified by the task force was the Office of the Urban Conservator and, specifically, urban conservator Larry Harris.

Paul Wilham. (BC)
Once staffed with six, the office now employs only two. Local preservationists, including Paul Wilham, president of the Knox Hill Neighborhood Association and writer of the Victorian Antiquities and Design blog, have been calling for Harris' ouster, claiming that not only does Harris lack the right training, but his office has repeatedly lacked the proper documentation when making determinations under the Section 106 review process required when using federal funds for the demolition of possibly historic properties.

Under a term outlined in the motion, the office would be required to describe, within 60 days and in full detail, the process by which it reviews historic properties and to examine the feasibility of adding to its staff either paid positions or independent, volunteer consultants.

On the agenda

OTR Matters, a network of preservation activists launched from a "virtual army" at the beginning of this year in response to the controversial demolition of 142 E McMicken Avenue in Over-the-Rhine, hopes that those who value the City's historic architecture show their support to the committee.

"Untold dozens of historic structures throughout the city have been lost and even more are at risk of being lost if we do not reform our ways in this city," said a recent post on the network's website. "It is our goal to put preservation on the agenda and let our voices be heard in support of OTR and historic Cincinnati."

An ordinance adding the changes to the City's Municipal Code is on the agenda for the next full Council meeting, to be held on January 26.

Previous reading on BC:
CPA program to highlight strategy for saving endangered building stock (8/4/10)
Dohoney: Most OTRF preservation recommendations 'probably unfeasible' (8/5/09)
Receivership 101 shows ways to get blighted properties into hands of responsible owners (7/28/09)
Morgan, OTR group propose changes to City code enforcement (7/21/09)
Group petitioning council to stop Over-the-Rhine demolitions (6/10/09)