CINCINNATI - The Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board voted 3-1 to grant historic landmark designation to the old Clifton Heights mansion that for decades was home to Lenhardt's Restaurant.
But the debate isn't over yet.
The board also asked city staff to revise the guidelines that would apply to the structure at 151 W. McMillan Ave. before its recommendation is forwarded to the Cincinnati Planning Commission. That process could take several more weeks.
Members of the CUF Neighborhood Association are seeking a historic landmark designation for the building, which has long been a popular student hangout, to make the structure more difficult to demolish.
The Windholtz family, who owns the property and ran the now-closed Lenhardt's Restaurant for more than 60 years, wants to sell the mansion and adjacent property to a Rhode Island developer. The developer has proposed demolishing the old home and nearby structures to make way for a seven-story student rental development.
Lawyers for the Windholtz family argued that designating the old mansion as historic would amount to the city taking the family's private property, hurting their opportunity to sell off the assets and retire.
Consultant Bob May testified that the building needs an estimated $1.8 million in repairs to continue as a viable business or to be converted to housing.
The three-hour hearing included emotional testimony from Erika Windholtz, whose parents opened their first restaurant in 1955 and moved Lenhardt's to 151 W. McMillan in 1963. Windholtz and her husband, Joe, ran the restaurant starting in 1977.
"Why are you doing this to me, CUF?" Erika Windholtz said at the hearing. "My family, we had property in Yugoslavia, and it was taken from us. And I feel like this is happening to me right now here in the United States."
Proponents of the designation argued that the building is historically significant because it was built for John Goetz and his wife, Lizzie Moerlein, by beer baron Christian Moerlein, Lizzie's father. They also argued it's one of the few remaining examples of ornate Queen Anne architecture in the neighborhood. And, they said, Clifton Heights wants to preserve the building to save an important historic remnant of what the neighborhood used to look like.
"Our community is what we call home, and we seek to preserve what remains," said CUF Neighborhood Association President Cherie Wallpe.
University of Cincinnati students and former UC students testified in favor of saving the building. Charles Marxen, a chemical engineering major who is helping to lead the Save Clifton Heights group, said Cincinnati needs to preserve its historic architecture to make the city more appealing to young people.
"We aren't attracted to some shiny, cheaply built student housing filled with national chains. We can get those anywhere," Marxen said. "Help make the decision for me to stay in Cincinnati a little bit easier."
But Tom Erbeck, owner of nearby Adriatico's Pizza, said it doesn't make sense to preserve the building if nobody can afford to fix it up.
"I'm worried that we're just going to have a boarded up building," he said. "I'm concerned that we're going to save this building for it to be just an eyesore."
Ultimately, a majority of the Historic Conservation Board agreed that the building should be designated a landmark. Board member Ben Young voted against the designation. Board Chairman John Senhauser, Vice Chair Judith Spraul-Schmidt and member Ken Jones voted in favor.
The next step in the historic designation process is for the Historic Conservation Board to review the new guidelines developed by staff.
If the board approves those guidelines, its recommendation would be forwarded to the City Planning Commission.
The planning commission would then have a hearing and forward its recommendation to Cincinnati City Council, which has the final say.
The entire process could take several months.
And Senhauser noted that, even if a historic landmark designation is ultimately granted to the building, that doesn't mean it won't someday be razed.
"This is not going to guarantee this building can never be demolished," he said. "If the case can be made this building should be demolished based on the criteria specified, this board would find in that manner and has in the past."
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