After outcry over Mount Lookout demolition, city planners begin preservation study

100-year-old home torn down but may spare others

Editor's note: This story previously indicated the home on Grace Avenue was located in Hyde Park; upon further review, the home is within the Mount Lookout Community Council's boundary.

CINCINNATI -- Neighbors opposing the demolition of a Mount Lookout home at least 100 years old walked away from City Hall Friday with a victory -- one that could impact much more than 1228 Grace Avenue.

They couldn't stop the developer from demolishing the yellow house on Grace Avenue on Saturday - he already had a permit - but it could spare other houses in that part of town.

For the next 90 days, developers who intend to demolish homes in Hyde Park and Mount Lookout will need the approval of the City Planning Commission to do so. 

In the meantime, the city will study those neighborhoods and contemplate the establishment of a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay to "preserve the character of selected neighborhoods and to protect unique areas of the City from inappropriate development." 

 

The kerfuffle started with a yellow house at 1228 Grace, which developer Angelo Pusateri bought with plans to tear down and transform into a duplex. 

Former owner Karen Robertson, who sold the house to a family who sold it to Pusateri, saw the purchase as another entry in a long-running saga of "historic" buildings ending up on the wrong side of a wrecking ball.

"As we watch all these historic homes bulldozed around us, our neighborhood's charm and character slowly erode," she said.

Pusateri contended in a written statement the home was not historic -- just old. Its age, he said, showed not in period details or the preservation of original features but in structural decay and evidence of many additions, renovations and the increasing precarity of its hilltop perch.

"The characteristics that would make it historic have been stripped away by generations of homeowners over the years," he wrote.

He added that he had renovated many old homes in his career and that Robertson's one-time request for a national designation of historic status at Grave Avenue had been denied.

The conflict over the home eventually enfolded other neighbors and developers, who took opposite sides in a debate that seemed clear-cut to both: Concerned residents believed developers were stripping their neighborhoods of personality, and developers believed adding greater oversight would negatively impact economic growth in the city.  

By Friday, the situation had grown so vitriolic that Pusateri had a restraining order against a couple he said had verbally harassed his wife and hit his contractors with a stick. Their daughter, Julie Wijesooriya, attended the commission meeting in their stead.

Other builders said they felt especially slighted by the immediate 90-day moratorium on demolitions, which could become up to nine months if commissioners decide their study is incomplete at the end.

"The urgency of this is the unfair part," Cincinnati Home Builders Association president Adam Cristo said. "We talk about money, us selfish builders. This is our livelihood. … This is how we live. This is how we feed our families."

The results of the city's study might ultimately favor either side, but Robertson and those who hope for a greater focus on local preservation felt triumphant after the decision.

"Maybe it will get torn down," Robertson said. "But it went down with a fight, and it went down to help this community."

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