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Monday, February 27, 2012

mansfield's performance since 2009 demo controversies

In 2009 the City of Mansfield had its NSP funding suspended by the Ohio Department of Development over their failure to correct their omission of Section 106 historical property reviews in the demolition process. 
As a result of the funding suspension the city agreed to correct the issues and bring its own Community Development Department up to compliance with the federal law.
I recently spoke to Justin Cook at the Ohio Historical Preservation Office to find out how Mansfield has performed in submitting reviews.  He made a check of records and confirmed that the Section 106 Reviews have been coming in regularly from here (as opposed to many years previously of non-compliance).  I updated Justin on what we had been doing here by reviewing demolitions submitted by Codes and Permits. 
In 2011 we had no updates from Codes, but as of the end of 2010 the Historical Society, relying on reviews by the Historic Preservation Commission, had passed on demolitions of 135 properties, and held up demolitions of 3 by commenting on their historical significance.  In one case the city continued the review (331 Prescott), and then dropped the case when the OHPO ruled it eligible for the National Register.  In the other two cases the city appears to have just moved on.
Justin was glad to hear the process was working on both ends.  It's ironic that the Preservation Act which incorporates all of the checks and balances of the review process and provides for citizen input in the spending of federal dollars, actually has next to nothing for enforcement remedies.  In our case, the suspension of the NSP funds worked, but took a disproportionate amount of effort on the part of the OHPO and Ohio Department of Development to bring about.  And the reality of how the process is working today is a far cry from the detailed expectations the Act lays out regarding how the public is a partner in the process. 
Basically neither OHPO nor the Historical Society here in Mansfield has a birdseye view of the process.  So talking to Justin brought things into perspective and I can say with confidence we accomplished positive things.  For a more detailed look at what happened in 2009 you can read the archived blog posts.

Friday, February 10, 2012

preservation commission

Today I learned that I have not been reappointed by the mayor to the Historic Preservation Commission of Mansfield which I have Chaired for a good number of years.  Several other long-time members were similarly dismissed also. 
I would just like to make it clear, for those who may confuse the two groups, that I am still the President of the Richland County Historical Society which operates Oak Hill Cottage. 
Oak Hill is a labor of love.  The HPCM chairmanship was much more of a burden of responsibility.  I was not ready to let it go, but I already feel the relief of not having to move that agenda forward this year.  Hopefully someone new will carry on appropriately.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

more demolitions?

Cuyahoga County has been in the news recently because of their demolitions: 1000 last year and looking to demolish 20,000 if they can get the funding, according to news reports. 
Hard hit communities all over the country are facing similar challenges, although the lawless stripping and looting of foreclosed properties seems to be much more out of control in Cleveland than in most other cities.  Given that houses are systematically rendered worthless there as soon as they go vacant, it's easy to understand the need to demolish them at that point.  But I'm questioning how or why the demolition after the fact is touted as fighting blight, instead of what it really up after a failure all down the line. 
Here in Mansfield, where the looters and strippers are a little more subdued, and where perhaps the neighborhood vigilance has not eroded so badly, we should have a chance to apply some real solutions short of the wrecking ball.  We should resist the urge to look to Cleveland as a model for fighting blight.  Blight has already won the battle there.  We still have a fighting chance here.
What I'm suggesting is that more attention and funding be put into securing vacant properties.  That we learn how to live with and manage them.  And that we invest in positive approaches to preventing deterioration.  The money we are going to spend tearing houses down might be better spent and might create a few jobs if we apply it to code enforcement, winterization, secure boardups, lawn mowing, and maintenance.  Even where the community has to step in and put some money into a property to save it, it makes more sense than waiting for demolition.  The cost goes on the tax bill either way.  The demolition compounds the cost and loss by destroying a certain amount of real estate value and creating a non-contributing empty lot to the landscape. 
I'm forseeing a mounting frustration with vacant properties that is building, and because we've been lazy in applying preventive maintenance, a growing consensus that demolition is the answer.  I'm not even speaking as a "perservationist" in opposing that, rather from the conviction that it has no significant effect on battling blight.  It's the last act of the defeated...clearing the dead and dying from the battlefield and little else.