Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Goetz house receives initial approval for landmark status

Cincinnati's Historic Conservation Board (HCB) on Monday recommended local historic landmark designation for the Goetz House, better known as Christy's and Lenhardt's, located at 151 W McMillan Street in Clifton Heights.

The HCB voted 3-1 to accept the staff recommendation on the house, built in 1892 by beer baron Christian Moerlein for his daughter Elizabeth ("Lizzie") and her husband John Goetz, Jr. Goetz is recognized as a late 20th century civic leader, lawyer, neighborhood developer, and vice president of the brewery.

The Queen Anne-style mansion is the last remaining of several that once served as a gateway into the Old Town business district.

"This is not going to guarantee that this building will never be demolished," HCB Chair John Senhauser said. "This board has done so [approve demolition of a local historic landmark] on a number of occasions."

The house is slated for demolition to make way for a seven-story, 210-unit student-oriented apartment building with street-level retail, to be developed by Gilbane Development Company and Optimus. Four other structures would be demolished along E McMillan Street, Clifton Avenue, and Lyon Street – including the building housing Clifton Natural Foods.

Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in May 2014, with completion in time for the 2015-2016 school year.

'We cannot afford to keep this building'

Ownership of the property has been in the family since 1963, and current owners Joe and Erika Windholtz have owned the property since 1978. The family has been assembling parcels in the area for more than 50 years.

Daughter Christy Lammers told the HCB that the family has been trying to market the property for at least 15 years, but redevelopment proposals in 2002 and 2006 fell through due to a gap in financing. Both proposals would have required the demolition of the house.

It's estimated that at least $1 million in repairs to the brickwork, roof, windows, and mechanical systems would be required to make future use of the building viable.

The family already has spent approximately $150,000 on major repairs to the building over the past ten years, Lammers said.

"We cannot afford to keep this building," she said. "This [development] would bring hundreds of jobs to the area and millions of tax dollars to the City," she said.

Preserving what is left

Cherie Wallpe, president of the CUF Neighborhood Association (CUFNA), said that the organization was investigating the building's historic status as far back as last June, but temporarily tabled it.

"At that time, there was no reason to take action," she said.

It wasn't until Christy's announced its closure in December that CUFNA decided to revisit the issue, she said. The Gilbane/Optimus proposal was presented to CUFNA on January 28, and the application for historic landmark status was filed as a way to take a step back and to investigate other potential uses.

According to Wallpe, recent development in the neighborhood represents "insignificant architecture" and "inferior quality and materials". She cited specifically the mixed-use U Square @ the Loop project, which she said is a "concrete canyon" that is completely out of scale for Clifton Heights.

"Our community that they've [Goetz and Moerlein] given us is what we call home, and we seek to preserve what is left," she said.

But according to Lammers, there has been a severe lack of communication – and a possible personal vendetta – by the very neighborhood group that's supposed to protect the business' interests.

"This small representation [at CUFNA] has fought everything my family has done," she said.

Attorney Art Weber of Wood & Lamping LLP, the firm representing the Windholtz family, agreed.

"This is something that could have changed with their [CUFNA's] participation," he said. "But no, they went right for the throat in filing with this committee."

'Difficult argument to support'

Weber pointed out that Goetz used his political influence to improve the value of his own Clifton Heights property holdings, then sold them off for a profit. So what's the difference now?

"It becomes a very difficult argument to support," Weber said.

He also noted that the Windholtz family has invested far more time and energy in the building than Goetz ever did. Goetz lived in the house for seven years, until his death in 1899.

"If it can't be economically feasible, then why do it?" Weber said. "Ideally, yeah, it would be great to preserve everything that can be preserved. But that's not how it works. This building is not historic. John Goetz is not important enough that we would designate this piece of property [historic]."

Question of property rights

"Why are you doing this to me?" Erika Windholtz said. "CUF, why are you doing this?"

Windholtz told the HCB that her family emigrated to the United States from Yugoslavia in 1953 after several of her its properties were seized by the Communist government, and she feels like it's happening all over again.

While sharing her family's story, her two minutes of allotted speaking time expired.

"I think I have a right to say what I need to say," she said. "It's my property. I just hope I have a few more years to enjoy the fruits of my labor here in the United States, where we have private property rights."

Weber agreed that any historic designation would equate to a "taking" by the City.

"Some of the feelings expressed [by demolition opponents] were quite passionate," he said. "Feelings are one thing, but property rights in development are another."

"In terms of taking, really all we're doing is determining if this is a historic building," said HCB member Ken Jones. "Personally, I think it is a historic building. But that doesn't preclude it from coming before the board for a demolition permit in the future."

The City Planning Commission and City Council still must vote in favor of historic landmark status before it becomes official.

Other action

At the meeting, the HCB also:
  • Approved a certificate of appropriateness for a rooftop deck at the Residence Inn Cincinnati Downtown, located at 506 E Fourth Street in the Lytle Park Protection Area;
  • Approved a certificate of appropriateness for the conversion of the vacant bank building at 1302 Main Street in Over-the-Rhine into a single-family residence; and
  • Heard an update on the Brewery District Master Plan, which will be presented to the City Planning Commission next month and will be considered for adoption by City Council in May.