Columbia Tusculum wants to preserve historic brick and limestone curbs at $760k cost

CINCINNATI -- Morris Place is a quaint street in Cincinnati’s historic Columbia Tusculum neighborhood, lined with stone walls, wrought iron fences and colorfully trimmed Victorian houses built from the 1860s to the early 1900s.

Preserving history is so important to residents that they want the city to restore their asphalt street to bricks and replace crumbling limestone curbs with new slabs of stone.

But that historic character comes with a $760,000 price tag.

Now city leaders and neighborhood residents are trying to figure out who should pay for it.

The city’s transportation and engineering department has balked at the huge cost of making these historic changes to Morris Place and intersecting Tusculum Avenue, but is giving residents until July 2 to come up with a plan to pay for some of it. A special assessment is being considered.

Morris Place before the city began construction in early May 2018 to repar the "paved over brick" street.

“All the residents who I talked to are open to bearing some of the cost, within reason,” said Matthew Yauch, president of Columbia Tusculum Community Council. “The city is partnering with us to give us some time to figure out if we can make the money happen.”

In other nearby historic neighborhoods, leaders have taken special care and expense to preserve and restore brick streets laid in the early 1900s.

Once city engineers removed old asphalt, they found original bricks too soft to be restored. But new bricks and limestone curbs will cost $760,000.

For example, in Newport, a city ordinance requires brick streets and alleyways be restored, rather than paved over with asphalt or concrete.

Whether that will happen in Cincinnati may be an issue of cost.

“It would cost $520,000 to reconstruct the brick pavers and install concrete curbing for the length of the street … this cost represents approximately four times the $120,000 the (city) had budgeted,” Don Gilding, the interim director of the city’s transportation and engineering department wrote in a May 18 memo to city leaders.

Once the asphalt was removed from Morris Place on May 4, city engineers realized the underlying brick could not be restored because it was too soft.

So residents now want the city to pave their street with new bricks, like has been done to historic streets in Mount Lookout and Hyde Park in recent years.

Crumbling limestone curbs on historic Morris Place in Columbia Tusculum.

They also want the city to replace limestone curbs with new stone slabs, instead of concrete, which would cost an additional $360,000.

At a community council meeting on Monday night, one resident brought up the possibility burying overhead utility lines underground, as part of the construction project.

“(The city) has asked Mr. Yauch and other interested community stakeholders to provide a realistic funding plan to cover the estimated $760,000 difference,” Gilding wrote. “One possible funding option, if 60 percent of the approximately 40 fronting property owners agree and city council also agrees, is a special assessment. "

For now, residents are in a holding pattern as they discuss a special assessment and explore historic preservation grants that could defray the cost.

“We’re looking for someone on city council to help us along the way,” Yauch said. “We’ve never done this before so we’re trying to look for some guidance.”

Residents of Morris Place in historic Columbia Tusculum want crumbling limestone curbs replaced with new stone slabs, instead of concrete.

So far, Yauch hasn’t met with any city leaders but said council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach and Tamaya Dennard have expressed interest in helping.

But time may be running out. If Gilding doesn’t get a finance plan from residents by July 2, contractors will lay the final asphalt layer on Morris Place.

“This type of request is unusual and would likely require legal guidance and a separate bid for the work,” Gilding wrote. “Considering the time it would take to prepare plans and procure a contractor to complete such work, DOTE does not anticipate such a project being completed this calendar year.”

The city has roughly 75 lane miles of “paved over brick” streets, which would cost more than $75 million to reconstruct, Gilding wrote.

But for Yauch, it is about preserving history on his pretty lane of homes.

“We live in a historic district … and it requires additional costs to maintain our homes and there are additional rules we must follow to maintain them,” Yauch said. “We just expect some kind of partnership with the city to do the same with the streets.”

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