A historic district is a group of buildings that have been designated as historically or architecturally significant – and the honest to goodness truth is that they are all – every last one of them – a ridiculously expensive, royal pain-in-a-developer’s-butt.
Tour a few “before” and “afters” it won’t take long to conclude there’s a special place in heaven for the idealistic, passionate believers who restore our structural past. In addition to the normal bureaucracy of construction they have to contend with Historic Conservation Board hearings and specifications like compatible wood-framed windows that cost boatloads of money. It’s a herculean challenge to get an elevator to fit in a five story walk-up built in 1895 so that there’s a prayer somebody will carry groceries to the top floor in 2016. All this after decades of neglect from absentee landlords, holes in the roof and damage from the elements. It’s insane.
How does anybody do it? That must be why cincyopolis is regularly privy to so many stories about historic buildings collapsing under highly mysterious circumstances. Last week Chris Wetterich of the Cincinnati Business Courier, decided one such example was worthy of broader public attention in the traditional press.
The four-story, 24,000-square-foot building at 313 W. Fifth St., built in 1860, partially collapsed recently. According to John Blatchford, vice president of the Cincinnati Preservation Collective, it was probably after the owner or the tenants began cutting through joists in all the floors to install a spiral staircase without a permit.
In and of itself, the collapse is strange – but it’s particularly troubling in light of the demolition of the adjacent buildings a few years ago, property owned by Shree Kulkarni, member of the Historic Conservation Board. He turned those into nice, efficient parking lots.
Auditor’s photo from 2008 of the 2 historic structures torn down to make parking lots.
When City Manager Harry Black appointed Kulkarni to the Historic Conservation Board last August, it wasn’t well-received by preservationists. They weren’t comfortable with previous comments Mr. Kulkarni posted to his Twitter account about the Board’s denial of the demolition of the Davis Furniture Building in Over-the-Rhine.
“Another example of how historic preservation, with no economic interest, is making economic decisions,” Kulkarni wrote. “Terrible result for developer.” After the Mayor and members of Council vouched for the candidate’s character as a hard-working first generation American, the appointment was approved anyway.
It’s getting to the point citizens don’t know who to trust.. Today’s surface parking has a way of turning into tomorrow’s taxpayer subsidized new construction. One concerned preservationist decided to go check out the damage for himself at 313 W. 5th and see if this was intentional destruction to circumvent legal protection or if the building really was a safety hazard to the public..
Here’s what he saw:
Accident or intentional sabotage, demolitions are very, very rarely actual emergencies that require immediate government intervention to protect the public from harm. The real emergency seems to be to avoid public discussion until it’s too late for any other solutions. Owners know what they are buying when they purchase these properties, but they also know how to get around the rules.
It’s time to remind elected representatives why we have historic preservation districts. When Council confirms an appointment to the Historic Conservation Board, character isn’t enough. We need knowledgeable individuals in a position to make objective decisions untainted by their personal economic interests. Our built history is irreplaceable and these important decisions deserve more time and respect.
Make a noise. Get feisty.