Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Endangered Cincinnati buildings now easier to find

With Cincinnati City Council considering a motion and ordinances to adopt most of the recommendations of its Historic Building Loss Task Force, the City is making it easier for those who might save endangered buildings to find learn more about what's available.

The At-Risk Historic Structures website, provided by the City's Department of Community Development, lists significant historic buildings that are on the fast track to demolition due to neglect, lack of maintenance, or abandonment.

First rolled out in December, the website currently lists 29 properties, mainly in the communities of Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton, and the West End. Visitors can search the database for photos, a list of property code violations for each property, and where each building is within the City's standard code enforcement process.

A lack of capital and manpower has kept the City from fully enforcing its code enforcement laws, meaning that many buildings continue to fall through the cracks and deteriorate. Many are unaware of a particular building's problems until it's too late.

Ed Cunningham, head of the City's Property Maintenance Code Enforcement Division, said in a prepared release that demolition is considered a last resort made necessary only when all other efforts to save a building, including criminal prosecution of the owners, have been exhausted.

On average, a building is demolished in Cincinnati every two or three days.

"We don't want to see Cincinnati lose its history and identity," Cunningham said. "Historic buildings are part of what makes Cincinnati so unique. But we have to balance historic conservation with public safety concerns when these buildings deteriorate."

While the list is not yet comprehensive, Cunningham said that it does include some of the most critical cases.

"The City cannot stabilize every historic building in danger – there simply isn't the money or time for it," he said. "We hope that by singling out at-risk buildings, someone from the private sector will step forward and take necessary steps to address the immediate repairs required."

OTRF sets its own goals

Meanwhile, today the Over-the-Rhine Foundation (OTRF) presented its own "anti-demolition" plan for historic structures in its own neighborhood.

The non-profit, dedicated to preserving, protecting and celebrating Over-the-Rhine, has presented a list of short-term goals it hopes can be seized upon by neighborhood stakeholders.

In addition to acquiring Vacant Building Maintenance Licenses (VBML) for all neighborhood buildings heading for demolition or acquiring a VBML waiver for any owner who chooses to take out a building permit to repair and occupy the building – or to transition the building to a new owner, OTRF's immediate goals include:

  • Developing a matrix of key information for buildings on the City's demolition list, including ownership and building condition, that would allow OTRF and other interested parties to challenge the owners to sell, give up, or repair their properties;
  • Creating an Over-the-Rhine legal defense fund and fundraising campaign;
  • Developing prosecutorial support for Cincinnati housing court;
  • Identifying experts who can provide technical advice on issues of building stabilization;
  • Meeting with key City inspection staff to communicate OTRF's neighborhood goals, identifying partnership opportunities and funding sources; and
  • Using various media to communicate issues and progress to supporters and stakeholders.
Photos courtesy of the City of Cincinnati Department of Community Development

Previous reading on BC:
City committee to consider task force recommendations on historic buildings (1/17/11)
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)