COVINGTON, Ky. -- Steps from Covington's Main Street, two early 20th century side-by-side homes lean sadly against other -- one with a partially collapsed roof and boarded windows, the other surrounded by trash.
In June, owner and developer Joe Stevie made a plea to the city commission to let him tear the homes down. The Urban Design Review Board had already said no. The commission also said no, but left the door open to the possibility.
It's the ongoing saga between historic preservationists, who want to protect heritage and its stories, and developers, who see other uses for the same land or structure that are more economically viable.
Stevie, who has not given up on his quest to redevelop the property into condos, sees an opportunity that would put more people within walking distance to Mainstrasse Village's main entertainment corridor.
The design review board, which follows the guidelines for Mainstrasse's historic district where these homes sit, sees an opportunity to rehab and rebuild the houses at 318 and 320 Pershing Ave., leaving the street single-family residential.
But demolishing homes or structures in any local historic district is usually rare and frustrating for those who have a different vision.
"If it were up to me, I'd tear the whole street down," Stevie said.
Almost all the homes on the street need some work, and none have ever sold for more than $110,000, said Stevie, owner of Sparen Real Estate and Construction. He dismissed the review board's proposal that showed he could make a profit by restoring the homes and selling them in the low $200,000 range.
Rebecca Weber, a member of the review board, said it would be difficult to recommend a property be demolished. "It's a difficult thing to discuss as a board, it takes a little bit of our soul," she said. "We like to save the fabric of Covington."
East Row in Newport is a good example, said Weber. Critical mass of historic housing stock is important for the neighborhood. "Districts are so important so that everyone is on the same page regarding the standards," she said.
Scott Clark, Newport historic preservation officer, said there have been very few demolitions in the East Row in the 27 years it's been a historic district.
"Our guidelines are very strict," he said, adding that it's important to keep the housing stock original. It benefits the neighborhood socially, it increases the value of the homes and it draws more homeowners versus renters, Clark said.
"Look at the financial difference -- the average house in the East Row is selling to $300,000 to $400,000," he said. "Where we have similar housing stock (that are not in a historic district), we don't see prices anywhere near that."
Weber said Stevie chose to ask for economic hardship as a reason for the demolition. Weber and another board member did their own work to show the homes could be rehabilitated and sold for a profit.
"They do have value," she said adding that as long as the improvements and growth in Mainstrasse continue, then "they can make money."
Weber said they showed that the back of the homes could be two stories to give buyers the space they want.
Mayor Joe Meyer told Stevie to come back with a plan.
"In this case, the Urban Design Review Board rules say you have to give us your plan for what you're going to do," Meyer said in early August. Stevie had only asked to tear the homes down. "The remedy is simple. Have a plan. Don't leave us hanging."
Meyer is more concerned about parking -- Mainstrasse is notoriously tight on space for homeowners and businesses. "You have to be serious when you're increasing parking needs."
Covington's historic preservation officer, Emily Ahouse, said the city "commission was encouraging (the developer) to come back with a redevelopment plan."
A proposed replacement project has to strengthen the viability of the area as a whole, Ahouse said. "It's a hard argument to make. But that's one option," she said.
Lee Bledsoe, realtor and contractor who lives in the historic district, said "It would be a shame if the houses were demolished."
The historic homes are one of the reasons people come to Mainstrasse, he said. Just west of Main Street, renovated houses have doubled and tripled in value in a few short years.
"Once you tear historic buildings down, you set a precedent," said Lee. He offered the example of the Odd Fellows Hall that burned several years ago, leaving basically three walls standing.
"If the Odd Fellows Hall can be saved, anything can be saved,," said Lee. "I know it's 99 percent brand new construction" but it is still the Odd Fellows Hall.
"I know to make it economically viable, (Stevie) would like to tear them down," said Lee. "But these are potentially among the nicest on the street."
Stevie has run out of time to take the issue to court, which is the last appeal in the process, said Ahouse.
Stevie, however, plans on coming back at the development in the next few months. He's in the process of opening up his real estate and construction company in a rehabbed building at 801 Greer Street.
"I want to get idea from the movers and shakers (in Mainstrasse) and find out what they would like," he said. "I know what I would like."