CLIFTON HEIGHTS - Clifton Heights residents fighting to preserve a 132-year-old mansion that used to house Christy's and Lenhardt's will get another chance to save the building.
But when the day started Thursday, it looked like an inaccurate or ill-informed decision made by Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory was going to bring the months-long fight between a neighborhood group, historic preservationists and a developer to an end.
Here’s what happened:
Council’s Livable Communities Committee had scheduled a public hearing to discuss whether the city should designate the former Lenhardt’s building at 151 W. McMillan St. as a historic landmark. That designation would make it more difficult – but not impossible – to demolish the structure, which is also known as the Goetz House.
The Windholtz family, which has owned the old building for more than 60 years, wants to sell the property to a Rhode Island developer. That developer has plans to raze everything on the site to build a seven-story student rental development.
The building had been a popular bar and restaurant near the University of Cincinnati's main campus.
The family members have said that the Rhode Island company will withdraw its offer to buy the property if it is designated a historic landmark, effectively dashing the Windholtzes' hopes of selling their holdings and retiring comfortably.
The Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairview Neighborhood Association, or CUFNA, applied for the historic designation to save the building. Residents argued the house was historic for a variety of reasons, including the fact that local beer baron Christian Moerlein built it as a gift for his daughter, Lizzie, and her husband, John Goetz.
Hearing Was Supposed to Happen June 18
The city’s Historic Conservation Board in March recommended the historic designation. But the city Planning Commission in May disagreed and voted against the designation.
Planning commission recommendations typically are referred to city council’s Livable Communities Committee, and a public hearing on the issue was scheduled for that committee’s June 18 meeting.
But word started to spread Wednesday evening that the public hearing had been canceled.
When WCPO Digital started asking questions about the matter Thursday morning, several City Hall staffers referred questions to Jason Barron, Mallory’s spokesman.
Barron said Mallory had not sent the matter to committee because he agreed with the planning commission and figured that should be the last word on the issue.
Downtown attorney Tim Burke, who represents the Windholtz family, said he welcomed the mayor’s support. But he didn’t know what the lack of council action would mean for his clients.
“If in fact this means that the issue is dead, that’s terrific,” Burke said. “But I still expect to hear from the city solicitor’s office as to what this means.”
But downtown attorney Tim Mara, who represents CUFNA, told WCPO Digital that Mallory didn't have the authority to keep the matter away from council.
“He may veto the historic designation if council were to act on it,” Mara said. “But he can’t prevent them from acting on it.”
By the time WCPO Digital reached City Solicitor John Curp to get his interpretation of the mayor’s powers, the mayor had changed his mind and decided to send the matter to council’s Strategic Growth Committee.
Barron told WCPO Digital in a subsequent interview that Mallory changed his mind after learning he’s required to send the matter to a council committee.
Now Matter Likely Will Be Heard In August
The city must give another 14 days notice before the new public hearing can be held, though. So because of City Council’s upcoming summer recess, it likely won’t appear on the Strategic Growth Committee agenda until August, Barron said.
The day left Clifton Heights resident Cherie Wallpe exasperated.
“The process is very clear, and I think everyone in the city should be paying attention to how this process works,” said Wallpe, who is president of CUFNA. “I was really, really surprised and very disappointed at the beginning of the day. And as things have gone on, we still aren’t really certain what is going to happen.”
Neither is the Windholtz family. The family’s request for a permit to demolish the old building is on hold until the question of its historic designation is decided.