Integrity and My Neighbor, Paul

How did it happen, this drastic reconfiguration of the Lytle Park Historic District boundaries that magically popped into play sometime between the mailing of the public notice and the actual meeting two weeks later? 

City ordinances follow a strange, convoluted process on the road to legal adoption.  Upon the instruction of the City Manager, city staff gets first crack at making recommendations and in this case, city staff is two people:  Larry Harris, the Urban Conservator, and Caroline (Carol-INE, not Carolyn – she’s very sensitive about that) Kellam, part-time Senior City Planner.   New guidelines and boundaries are supposed to be made available to all the stakeholders in the neighborhood at the same time through public hearings where additional input can be gathered to make changes and citizens can exchange their views while decision-makers listen. 

That didn’t happen this time. 

Paul DeMarco lives on the same floor of my condo and I’m friends with his wife, Karen Smith.  By day, Paul is a normal sort of lawyer.  He wears suits and he’s real nice until he starts to talk “legal,” at which time he puffs up like a blow-fish, his voice gets louder, and he loses any trace of the sense of humor his neighbors find so charming when we run into him on the way to the trash chute.  After hours, Paul is a pro-bono Super Hero, fighting for the really important issues that don’t pay him a dime, a lot of them at City Hall.  Of course, I immediately went to find him to see what we could do.

He was the one who explained to me that there was a potential problem with the Integrity of the Process.  He’d arrived a little late for the meeting with city staff, but he’d been there in time to hear me ask Caroline if conversations had occurred with Western & Southern prior to the official public meeting and he’d heard her say, “There might have been.”  Paul suggested I make use of the Ohio Public Records Act and request all documents related to the Lytle Park Historic District.

Which is the real reason Carol-INE was so annoyed with me the day I stopped by to pick up the big, fat file of documents that also included a DVD with recordings of every one of the public hearings on the topic and all pertinent emails.  Her prickliness probably didn’t have anything to do with me mispronouncing her name at all.  I still haven’t made it all the way through that file.

But in the material I have reviewed I found an entry for discussion of the new Lytle Park Historic District on an agenda for a Historic Conservation Board meeting in December of 2013, three months before the start of the official process.  And the attendance sheet from that meeting shows that Fran Barrett, attorney for Western & Southern, and Margo Warminski of the Cincinnati Preservation Association were both in attendance.  There was a letter from Mr. Barrett on the letterhead of his legal firm objecting to specific changes that had been made to the guidelines from the first draft of the document he had worked on in the fall.  Pages of Margo’s grammatical changes had also been saved.

Do you see what I mean about good mysteries and how answering one question just leads to more?  It was logical to me that the City had reached out to the biggest property owner in the District to try to get a read on what they might or might not accept – even if it wasn’t on the up-and-up.  But why Margo Warminski?  Why the Cincinnati Preservation Association?  They hadn’t changed their lives to move downtown and invest substantial dollars.  Nobody had asked me or any of my other neighbors if it was OK for the Preservation Association to represent our interests. 

Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes.  From the very beginning, that never happened here.

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3 thoughts on “Integrity and My Neighbor, Paul

  1. Bonnie J. Speeg

    Dear Writer: Is it Kathy? A mystery for sure. What I don’t know is if this comment of mine is for you, or public on here. Therefore I refrain, to some extent, from fully expressing how much I know about names and organizations you’ve mentioned in your piece. I do indeed, appreciate your articulate candor on the matter of how did this get so out of hand/ If you’re new to these kinds of situations, you may not know shocking developments such as the ‘rearrangement’ of the Lytle Historic District happens ‘behind closed’ doors constantly in other American cities and regions; I call it roulette with public spaces and the private sector. In the past 25 years, both in Cincinnati and surrounding towns and communities, I have sat in on dozens and dozens of meetings with the now head of the Planning Department of UC when he was in private practice, and the now executive director of CPA; I was told what would and wouldn’t happen, regardless of any other important circumstances, guidelines, agendas, public concerns, philanthropic interests…on and on. I became jaded; watching all the politics swarm their way around sites, buildings, parks, hillsides in the name of someone almighty who wanted to have total domain over that place. Indeed, treating this forthcoming travesty as a bit of a novel mystery….helps soothe the stun factor for me. Thank you very much.

    Reply
  2. Paul W

    CPA is “highly dependent” on its wealthy society donor base. Those people are on the board or are personal friends with people on the board of every major corporation in town. CPA will not go against corporate interest or the city because they are beholding to their donor base. CPA is NOT a preservation organization in the real sense of the word. They do not go to court, sue to see that historic districts are upheld or that the city adhere to the 1966 historic preservation act. CPA is totally Ok with the destruction of those buildings just as they are OK with the destruction of S Fairmount for a glorified drainage ditch. It doesn’t matter that people are out there who live in the community don’t want it because CPA doesn’t want to Rock the boat. When KHNA filed a Federal citizens HUD complaint against the city for violation of the Section 106 review process where Federal funds (CDBG) were involved in demolitions, I had several ‘individuals’ involved with CPA, asking me why I was “rocking the boat”, I said well CPA isn’t doing anything and they are the signer of the programmatic agreement between OHPO (HUD) and the city. I was told “we don’t rock the boat around here”. Well we persisted and forced the city to set up a process (still a sham) and re-evaluate al the properties on the demo list. That bought valuable time and as a result dozens of properties are saved by preservationists, not affiliated with CPA.

    Cincinnati is a national laughing stock in Preservation circles in part due to CPA’s inaction. Gamble House …gone, Glencoe…gone, A block of historic homes in Corryville..gone and now S Fairmount and the homes at the park soon to be gone. We have not one, but TWO landmark buildings on a National Most Endangered LIST!

    If you really want to save Cincinnati you start a new Preservation Organization! When Knox Hill Neighborhood Association and OTRADOPT , both fledgling organizations, have saved more houses than CPA? Its time for a real Preservation group not beholding to wealthy donors first, but beholding to our architectural heritage First!

    Reply

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