Monday, July 22, 2013

Knox Hill: Zahn Row demolition would be 'counterproductive'

A plan is in place to restore the historic Alber Zahn Row in South Fairmount, but the Moving Ohio Forward demolition program may stand in its way.

The property, which is located at 1532-1538 Knox Street, consists of four attached Italianate, shotgun-style row houses. The houses were built as an investment in 1886 by Russian immigrant and Cincinnati merchant Alber Zahn and were later occupied by workers of the nearby Lunkenheimer Valve Company and Cincinnati Midwest Textile Company.

Half of Zahn Row is owned by the sons of a man named Rick Carlson, whom Knox Hill Neighborhood Association President Paul Willham says were "straw buyers" who only purchased the property because their father is no longer allowed to purchase property in his own name. Carlson and his Tuscan Hillside Development LLC own more than 200 properties in the neighborhood, the majority of which are delinquent in property taxes, have code violations, or are vacant lots that have become overgrown.

The other half is owned by Hal Laub, who Willham says has been "unreachable".

Willham wants Zahn Row "shaken loose" and put into the county land bank, where it can get into the hands of owners who could redevelop it.

He says that the property can be immediately stabilized and have its historic fa├žade recreated. Longer term, it could be developed into higher end market-rate housing, boosting neighborhood homeownership and preserving one of the last areas of intact historic streetscape remaining in South Fairmount.

To Willham, the Moving Ohio Forward signs are "Detroitesque" and they do nothing but tell people that the City doesn't care about the community – essentially, redlining.

"The purpose of the 'Moving Forward' funds was to remove blight and encourage redevelopment," he wrote in a July 14 e-mail to William Weber of the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, City Property Maintenance Code Enforcement Division Manager Ed Cunningham, Cincinnati Preservation Association Executive Director Paul Muller, and Councilmembers Qualls, Smitherman, and Sittenfeld. "It was not designed to remove prime redevelopment property to create vacant land for development 'someday in the future' because the city is trying to burn through funds dropped into their lap by a lawsuit settlement."

'Enough is enough'

Zahn Row was included in a 2012 Area of Potential Effect (APE) report, which was presented to City Urban Conservator Larry Harris last July.

The report found that, post-restoration, the property would be eligible for national historic landmark status under two of four criteria. Meeting only one of the four criteria is required.

"In spite of this cohesive, persuasive report, Mr. Harris 'rubber stamped' this as ineligible," Willham wrote. "Mr. Harris has rubber stamped properties as ineligible in the past and those properties have been turned around."

Since the APE report, properties at 2437-2439 Bloom Street have been purchased and will be rehabilitated into two luxury townhomes priced around $235,000 each, and a historic carriage house at 2428 Bloom Street will be rehabilitated into a single family urban loft, to be priced at more than $300,000.

And KHNA board member Gregory Drake plans to rehabilitate 1540 Knox Street into a single-family home listed around $350,000. By 2014, the vacant lot at 1530 Knox Street would be occupied by a mixed-use commercial and condominium building, listed around $450,000.

Drake bought both properties at sheriff's sale, only to discover the Moving Ohio Forward signs on the buildings his properties bookend.

"With almost 2 million dollars of overall improvement of value in the Overlook district, demolition is counterproductive," Willham wrote.

Willham says he has had extended meetings with Drake's attorney.

"If the signs on Zahn Row are not removed and efforts made to move it to land bank, the city can expect a lawsuit and Knox Hill Neighborhood Association will join in," Willham wrote to Cunningham. "Enough is enough."

Previous reading on BC:
Workshop attendees overwhelmingly support Lick Run daylighting (4/3/12)
City committee to consider task force recommendations on historic buildings (1/17/11)
Graves: Allowing condemned buildings to stand costlier than demolition (6/17/10)
Knox Hill neighborhood tour, 3/20/10 (4/5/10)
CPA urges auctioneer to reconsider sale of mansion's fixtures, details (6/10/09)