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Published: Monday, February 26, 2018 @ 9:01 AM
BUTLER COUNTY — Since early 2013, about 420 houses have been demolished in Hamilton, as officials perform a kind of dentistry, removing bad “teeth” while hoping to preserve those nearby. More demolitions are in progress.
The approach of destroying troubled properties to help neighboring ones appears to be working, according to at least one study. A study performed jointly in 2016 by two Miami University entities found such demolitions seem to have had positive impacts in both Hamilton and Middletown.
In Hamilton, the study determined that properties within 500 feet of a removed blighted building saw a 29 percent increase in their property values. In Middletown, properties near blighted buildings that were demolished had a 14 percent decrease in their likelihood of foreclosure, according to the study.
The report was created by Miami’s Center for Public Management and Regional Affairs, which worked with the university’s Center for Analytics & Data Science, the organization whose students and faculty compiled the data used to reach the findings.
On the other hand, given the short period of the study (two years), Miami officials said the results are “inconclusive and, for the most part, statistically insignificant.”
The land bank and university are discussing performing a follow-up study this year or next that examines the issue further and delves into other, related issues.
Told how many buildings had been razed, Margo Warminski of the Cincinnati Preservation Association said: “I had no idea it was that many. That’s rather shocking.”
“If you want people to come back to the community, you have to give them something to come back to,” Warminski said. “They’re not going to come back to vacant lots.”
That’s one reason that this year Hamilton will be looking to put some of the now-empty lots back into productive use, perhaps with new houses created by Habitat for Humanity and others, said the city’s planning director, Liz Hayden.
Meanwhile, the Butler County Land Bank, which takes possession of many problem properties before they are razed, has torn down more than 600 properties since it was created. Many of them were abandoned by residents and left to deteriorate by the banks that took possession of them in the fallout from the Great Recession, which caused many foreclosures. That 600 figure overlaps significantly with the 420 torn down in Hamilton.
“We try to take a look at the worst of the worst,” said Mike McNamara, chief administrative officer of the Butler County Land Bank, which takes possession of many of the properties. “These are vacant, abandoned houses that are potential fire hazards or magnets for crime.”
The idea, he said, is “eliminate those that have no redeeming market value. If it’s not something that the market is addressing on its own, that’s where we start looking at it.”
Warminski agrees with that approach.
“Not all buildings are equally worthy of preservation, because some may be insignificant, or they may be expensively altered, so they don’t retain a lot of their historic character anymore,” Warminski said. “Or some buildings are simply very expensive or difficult to repair and reinhabit because of their condition, because they’ve been neglected for too long — they have serious structural problems.”
Those are the ones Kathy Dudley, an attorney on Hamilton’s staff who handles land bank business, calls “zombie properties,” that she said Hamilton has been targeting. Some are so dangerous that firefighters have determined they’re too hazardous to enter.
Warminski, whose organization monitors preservation issues across the region, said the city of Cincinnati has been doing a good job lately of trying to preserve buildings that should be, “and we’re very pleased about that.”
“In certain neighborhoods — and not just Over-the-Rhine, because it’s moved into other neighborhoods as well — people are buying, renovating and reoccupying buildings that have been vacant and derelict for some time,” Warminski said. “Not only that, but business districts are being revitalized because people are moving back into these neighborhoods.”
As a result, she said, “Cincinnati Public Schools’ enrollment is going up, because people are moving back to the city.”
She mentioned Cincinnati’s neighborhoods of College Hill, Westwood and the East Price Hill Incline District, which overlooks the city’s downtown area from the west.
“Every house is some family’s history,” Dudley said. “I don’t care if it’s in an historic area or somewhere else. And they each tell a different slice of history. But the fact is, sometimes in order to get to the future, you have to close a page of history.”
Some properties are far from complying with building codes. Others are rotting away. It typically costs between $4,000 and $19,000 to raze a structure, with the most costly factor being the presence of asbestos.
Home demolition: By the numbers
420 Homes demolished in Hamilton since 2013
29% Increase in value of properties within 500 feet of a removed blighted building in Hamilton, according to a 2016 study by two Miami University entities
14% Decrease in likelihood of foreclosure of properties near blighted buildings that were demolished in Middletown, according to the same study
$4,000 to $19,000 Typical cost to raze a structure
Published: Sunday, June 17, 2018 @ 10:04 AM
LEBANON — Warren County already is hard-pressed to come up with the money to pay for two construction projects that have been in the plans for years.
Last week, however, county officials said the work is more difficult now because of rising construction costs.
U.S. trade tariffs could worsen the problems for commercial construction in Warren County and elsewhere in the country, according to the chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).
Warren County has sought money to pay for an event center planned to replace grandstands at the county fairgrounds, and commissioners for almost a decade have planned an expansion of the county’s juvenile and probate court complex.
RELATED: More U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods
Ken Simonson, chief economist for the national association of general contractors, said construction problems reflect national price hikes in building materials and goods that have prompted commercial contractors to begin raising their prices.
“Construction is really feeling the heat of rising material costs,” said Simonson. “I am concerned that the tariffs that have been announced … will push up construction costs even more.”
Still, last week in Lebanon, the county commissioners green-lighted negotiations expected to result in construction of a scaled-down version of the court facilities expansion, although staff said they had been unable to find a contractor willing to do the work for the $3.5 million budgeted.
At the same meeting, the commissioners put the brakes on the construction of the $3.8 million event center — already out of the picture for the county fair in July — while reviving an old feud with Lebanon officials that dates back at least four years. The fight is about whether any of the city’s $1.5 million share of $3 million in state funds set aside for redevelopment of the former racetrack and the areas immediately around them should be spent on the fairgrounds property.
“We’ve got a jail to build,” Commissioner Dave Young said, noting the county is involved in number of multi-million dollar construction projects. “This is at the bottom of my list.”
Event center deficit rekindles feud
Young directed staff to ask the city to help cover a deficit of almost $500,000.
“I want them to tell us they don’t have any money for this redevelopment,” Young said.
Lebanon has spent all but $403,000 of its share of the racetrack redevelopment funding through contributions to development of a new LCNB building on the north end of downtown and site work on the former city garage site just south of the fairgrounds in anticipation of redevelopment commercially or as the site of the new fire station.
Both projects are within the area where the funds for racetrack redevelopment can be spent, according to state law set up after legalization of racinos in Ohio. The law came about when the new owners of the license for the raceway long operated at the county fairgrounds in Lebanon moved out to the Miami Valley Gaming racino west of the city limits, near Interstate 75.
But none of the city share has been spent on the fairgrounds, vacated by the racetrack owners when the racino opened.
Last week, Lebanon City Manager Scott Brunka said the city council had decided to spend the rest of its share on improvements establishing an entertainment district downtown.
“The City has coordinated the release of the remaining redevelopment funds with the Ohio Development Services Agency, with a final application being submitted shortly,” Brunka said via email. “The City has not budgeted for any financial contributions to the proposed event center.”
Asked about the city’s view of its responsibility to help redevelop the fairgrounds, Brunka pointed to an April 2015 resolution passed by the commissioners agreeing to collaborate on distribution of the funds and leaving it up to Lebanon leaders where to spend the city share.
Gene Steiner, president of the county agricultural society, said the city might feel some responsibility, since much of the $460,000 the project is over budget comes from stormwater management and water supply improvements required by the city.
“I think it’s an appropriate question,” said Steiner. He is president of the group that’s better known as the fair board, which manages the annual fair and the facilities where it is held just north of Lebanon’s historic downtown.
“The mayor’s been very supportive,” Steiner added. “That doesn’t mean they are going to write a check.”
Meanwhile, Steiner said he was meeting with port authority officials for preliminary discussions of the event center being developed by the port authority through a series of leases like those used to keep building costs down on projects, including the racino, while also avoiding adherence to prevailing wage laws required on public projects.
Other options laid out last Tuesday by Deputy Administrator Martin Russell had the the fair board picking up the difference or “walking away” from the project.
Steiner said he did not like those other options, while adding that part of the problem was higher costs associated with a booming commercial construction sector.
Construction costs inflate projects
“Business is booming. Contractors have lots and lots of work to do. It is not a cheap time to do any project,” Steiner said.
The cost of materials, as reflected in a producer price index, has jumped 8.8 percent (compared to 2.8 percent for the overall consumer price index) over the last 12 months, including 2.2 percent from April to May, according to Simonson, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While recognizing higher costs could have an effect, Randall Fox, executive director of the AGC West Central Ohio division in Dayton, said the primary problem was different in this region.
“The biggest problem our contractors are having is finding quality people,” he said, adding contractors said they were slower in completing work due to the skill levels of workers they were hiring.
The AGC based in Cincinnati referred questions to economist Simonson, who said he lacked local perspective, but added that contractors from too far from the project site could hesitate to bid for contracts of $3 million to $4 million due to higher fuel costs.
The construction company expected to build the event center, Conger, is based in Lebanon, and HGC, selected for the court expansion, in Cincinnati.
Cost overruns are showing up earlier in the public development process in cases, like those ongoing in Warren County, where a construction manager at risk is hired by the government at a set price, Deputy Administrator Russell said.
Scaled-down expansion moves ahead
The commissioners budgeted $3.5 million for an 11,000 square foot expansion of the juvenile and probate court facilities, including two new courtrooms.
Yet they agreed last week to let staff negotiate a construction contract expected to cost hundreds of thousands more, saying they potentially could save on long-term operating costs.
County Administrator Tiffany Zindel pointed to the common problem with rising construction costs.
“They have enough work,” Zindel said. “What I’m telling you is we are not coming in at $3.5 (million).”
This after court staff, headed by Judge Joe Kirby, agreed in 2016 to downsize the expansion from 17,000 to 11,500 feet. A second and third courtroom are the cornerstones of the expansion.
Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2018 @ 8:43 AM
Updated: Tuesday, June 12, 2018 @ 8:10 PM
KETTERING — UPDATE @ 8:10 p.m.:
Kettering City Schools Treasurer Dan Schall estimated the proposed 5.99-mill levy would generate approximately $7.5 million annually.
This is pending the Montgomery County auditor’s certification of the current tax valuation of the school district.
The levy proposed for the November ballot would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $17.47 a month.
UPDATE @ 6:45 p.m.:
The Kettering Board of Education voted unanimously to place a 5.99-mill levy on the November ballot.
The Kettering school board will discuss tonight whether to put a new operating levy on the ballot in November.
Last November, voters in the Kettering school district overwhelmingly renewed a 4.89-mill property tax levy, which didn’t raise taxes but switched the property tax from being a 5-year levy to a continuing one, which generates nearly $4 million annually.
Passage of the levy helped fund salaries, operations and rising technology costs.
The levy costs the owner of a $100,000 home $149.76 annually. Kettering voters have supported repeated levies and bond issues in 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013.
Tonight’s discussion will center around potential timing of the proposed levy, according to Kari Basson, community relation coordinator for the district.
In 2016, district officials put together a a 10-year capital plan mailed to residents indicating several items that the school district needed to address, including kindergarten and preschool classroom space, plus major renovation of the Barnes building, high school auditorium and career tech areas. That’s in addition to smaller investments in textbooks and technology, roofing and paving, and athletic facilities.
Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2018 @ 9:10 AM
TROY – Merrit “Luke” Scott, deputy director of the Miami County Board of Elections for the past year, has submitted his resignation effective June 29.
Scott will leave for a new job in the elections field in Florida, according to his resignation letter submitted Monday.
“While this has been a difficult decision, please accept this official notice of my resignation,” Scott wrote. “I have enjoyed my time working in Miami County and serving the voters of Miami County.”
Scott has accepted a job as deputy of special projects with the Martin County Supervisor of Elections Office in Stuart, Fla.
Scott, previously of Columbus, was hired in late May 2017, to fill the position vacated with the firing by the elections board of former deputy director Eric Morgan in January 2017.
Scott, a Democrat, had worked for the Franklin County Board of Elections in Columbus in its voter services department. He was a graduate of the University of Rio Grande with an associate’s degree.
Published: Friday, June 08, 2018 @ 3:01 PM
SPRINGBORO — The first building to rise in redevelopment of the northwest corner of Springboro’s central crossroads is to be a $3.5 million performing arts center housing the Playhouse South Community Theatre currently located in Kettering, city officials revealed today.
The community theatre group, which has performed for the past decade in Springboro’s Shakespeare in the Park summer theater program, is to move into the Springboro Center for the Performing Arts, a 2 1/2 story, 15,000-square foot building expected to anchor the 6-acre redevelopment.
“They are going to move into this building and do community theater,” Springboro City Manager Chris Pozzuto said today.
On Thursday, the Springboro City Council approved agreements with Mills-Barnett Development, which has committed to investing $10 million in the development it is leasing from the city.
The city will spend $3.7 million — including $3.2 million refunded from money set aside for acquisition of right of way for the $10 million crossroads intersection project at Ohio 73 and Ohio 741, Central Avenue and Main Street in Springboro — on roads, sewers and other infrastructure for the development.
In July, the city council is expected to approve a ground lease with Mills for the buildings on the site.
“We will own the ground underneath,” Pozzuto said.
In addition this summer, the council is expected to approve plans for the performing arts center, envisioned as the anchor for restaurants, retail and other development also to be built around a public area in the center of the development.