June 26, 2016

Partly sunny

Denial to raze 3 houses is illegal

MEDINA — The city’s historic preservation board violated city code when it decided Thursday to deny the demolition permit needed to raze three Victorian houses on East Washington Street.
City code says after a 60-day period, if there isn’t a bona fide offer to purchase or lease, the demolition or moving of the building shall be approved by the board, Mayor Jane Leaver said Monday.
Leaver said she spoke with city Law Director Greg Huber the day of the board meeting, who in turn spoke with chairwoman Pam Miller, also president of city council, and told her the board didn’t have much choice except to approve the permit.
However, all three members present at the board meeting — with one vacancy and another out of town — voted to deny the permit, Leaver said.
“The code section speaks for itself,” Huber said. “What I think we’re going to do is request that the board reconsider that decision.”
The reason behind the decision is the board knew of a potential investor in the works, Miller said Tuesday.
“There is an offer in the making at this point, it’s just not on paper,” she said. “The applicant didn’t want another extension without something being on paper. The potential investors were waiting on figures by property owner Washington Enterprises Ltd. (They) are putting together something as we speak.”
At the May 10 meeting of the historic preservation board, Warren Reese and Bob Knight of Washington Enterprises requested permission to tear down the vacant Victorian houses their company owns at 234, 240 and 246 E. Washington St. The two explained the houses need renovations, and it is not economically feasible to maintain them.
The preservation board put a 60-day hold, which expired July 12, on any action.
Former Mayor Bill Lamb, who put together a group of potential investors, said they couldn’t get anything finalized without getting information about the ongoing monthly costs of the properties, and those numbers weren’t available to them by the time of the meeting Thursday.
“An offer is coming. The letter was being put together,” Lamb said. “We had hoped to have it wrapped up before the meeting so there wouldn’t have been any kind of confusion. I think any confusion between the board and city will be ironed out by the letter.”
The letter, which Lamb said was delivered to Washington Enterprises on Tuesday or will be given to them today, contains a request for a 60-day extension so they can put everything together and get more people involved, an offer of $280,000 for the three properties and extra money to cover expenses for the next two months.
Lamb previously said the group of investors has discounted turning the houses into residential properties and most likely the houses would serve as businesses like they have in the past.

He also has suggested turning the properties into a museum aimed at showing children what Medina looked like in the past.
The offer matches that of the Medina Library, which has the option to purchase the properties and would use them to make 30 new parking spaces for the new library building.
Of the board’s decision, Miller said: “It was sort of a Catch-22. I just felt that there was a chance the houses could be saved because there is an offer in the works. I just can’t, in my own conscience, support demolishing those houses. We were wrong by voting no; maybe we could have been better off tabling it. It probably would have been the less wrong of the two wrongs.”
Richard Marco, the attorney representing Washington Enterprises, said their next step is to appeal the decision to the board of zoning appeals, which they plan on doing next week.
“We understand Pam Miller’s desire to maintain the historic structures and the stance she’s taken … but it simply has no legal basis,” Marco said, adding that although they’ve had meetings with a group of interested residents, an offer hadn’t been made to his clients.
“It still doesn’t justify an incorrect decision,” he said. “We would have still considered to negotiate in good faith, but all parties have to participate.”
He added if the appeal doesn’t work out, the next logical step would be an action requesting the courts to make the city comply with its ordinance.
However, Marco emphasized he doesn’t believe things will get to that point and all parties involved have been very cooperative so far.
“I do not anticipate the need for any legal action in this case,” he said. “But my clients are prepared to take whatever steps are necessary. My clients are longtime citizens of Medina as well. They don’t want to see these things happen … they simply can’t afford it anymore.”
Marco said the properties have been for sale, on and off, for at least five years and have generated losses during those years.
Besides the legality of the vote, Leaver is concerned about the consequences.
“The board has knowingly made a decision against the advice of the law department and in direct conflict with city legislation,” she said. “Our liability insurance company is now involved and zoning issues are a major concern for insurance providers. I’m not sure what exposure the city will have.”
Washington Enterprises has 10 days to appeal the board’s decision, Leaver said, and the zoning board of appeals has 30 days to make a decision after the appeal has been filed.