Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Newport debates rules for East Row expansion



By Travis Gettys
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEWPORT - An expansion of the East Row Historic District is poised to move forward, more than two years after it was first proposed.

Emily Jarzen, historic preservation officer, presented several possible expansion scenarios to the city commission during its annual retreat, held this year at the Newport Municipal Building.

Jarzen will make her final recommendation to the commission at its March 22 meeting.

One possibility would alter guidelines, established when the current district was established in 1990, to fit the new areas, which Jarzen opposes.

Jarzen said she is likely to support establishing separate review thresholds for the expansion zones, rather than creating a new district.

It is not feasible to expand in only those blocks that fit current guidelines, Jarzen said, because not enough of them are in compliance with regulations.

"Most of the blocks have issues," she said.

Many of the buildings adjacent to the historic district are frame houses, she said, and almost half of them are covered with synthetic siding, which is not allowed.

"Most of them will want to keep their siding," Jarzen said.

City officials say some alterations, like siding or some types of windows, negatively affect the value of neighboring houses.

Establishing standards, they say, can protect the historical integrity of the neighborhoods and encourage home ownership.

"People feel their investment is safe in a historic district," said Mayor Tom Guidugli.

Newport's Historic Preservation Commission voted last year to endorse the district's expansion, but the plan has not yet been approved by the city.

The delay might have doomed a building on the west side of Washington Avenue, across the street from the existing historic district but within the proposed expansion zone.

The Pentecostal Holiness House of Deliverance Church recently purchased an adjacent house, with plans for expansion, said the Rev. Brooks Parker, pastor of the church.

The church has applied for a demolition permit, Parker said, because of concerns about the building's safety.

"The building is not in the best shape," he said.

Because it is not in the historic district, the city cannot stop the church for razing the brick house, which was built in 1876.

However, neighbors across the street are concerned that the congregation plans to expand a parking lot, which is rented to nearby office workers through the week.

"We're hoping that the house won't be torn down," said neighbor Julie Morrow. "Everybody but the church seems to be against more surface parking lots."

Only 62 percent of the homes in the expansion zone have enough historic characteristics to make them a contributing part of the neighborhood, Jarzen said, compared with 96 percent in the existing district.

Jarzen said her guideline was: "Do we know what architectural style it is?"

Rising property values have created problems in the existing East Row Historic District, said Police Chief Tom Fromme, because some cottage-style houses there cannot match rates in much of the neighborhood.

"We have a tremendous amount of rental properties that have had no turnover at all," he said. (Owners) are waiting for a big payday."

Although he said five code enforcement officers were sufficient, Fromme sees other problems with the houses, which violate some existing regulations.

"From a code enforcement point of view, we'll be saddled with those rental properties forever," he said.

That shouldn't dissuade the city from undertaking owner-occupied rehabilitation programs, said City Attorney Michael Schulkens.

"It's those types programs and incentives that get existing owners to invest and upgrade," Schulkens said.

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E-mail tgettys@enquirer.com




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