A pair of 19th century homes in Covington's Mainstrasse Village will remain standing for now.
The Covington City Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to uphold a previous decision by the city's urban design review board (UDRB).
Sparen Real Estate had sought to demolish 318 and 320 Pershing Avenue, connected addresses that sit in an historic preservation overlay zone. The properties are in severe disrepair after years of neglect by a previous owner.
According to the City of Covington's historic preservation guidelines, there are four potential criteria by which a property may be razed: it is so ordered by a public official or entity for reasons of public health; there is an inappropriate addition; a proposed replacement or development strengthens the viability of the area; or it is part of a plan adopted by the mayor and city commission.
"I recommend that the demolition does not meet any of these four criteria and the board concurred," said Covington's historic preservation officer Emily Ahouse, referencing the UDRB decision.
Sparen Real Estate appealed the UDRB decision to the city commission, which convened on Thursday to hear the case. The firm, represented at the meeting by Joseph Stevie, had not presented any plan for the site beyond the proposed demolition. Instead, UDRB members Chris Meyer, an architect, and Rebecca Weber, a real estate agent, prepared a possible alternative for the owner. They argued that a pair of side-by-side properties with a second story added in the respective rears, would make the homes more marketable for current buyers, and estimated that each unit could sell for as much as $210,000 each, for a total of $420,000.
Against an estimated project cost of nearly $390,000, that would mean roughly a $30,000 profit.
"There is a comfortable margin of profit there," Chris Meyer said.
"Similar properties have sold for similar prices," Weber added.
Stevie disagreed, arguing that Pershing Avenue has not seen a purchase price that high.
"As of the April meeting (of the UDRB), there had not been a house that sold for over $100,000 on Pershing ever," Stevie said. He also was critical of the surrounding properties on the street. "To get a $210,000 buyer to look across the street and see something like that, personally, I don't think you can get it.
"I love the location, not so much the street."
Stevie highlighted his resume which includes numerous renovation projects of historic properties, and argued that he sees too much risk with too little return - or worse, a loss, with the Pershing properties.
Neighbor Alma Puissegur, whose law firm office and home on Sixth Street share a rear property line with the Pershing houses, supported the UDRB decision and urged the city commission to follow suit.
"I find Pershing to be one of the most charming streets in Covington. You walk on Pershing and you think you are in old Europe," Puissegur said. "The houses are very decently kept, the property is very decently kept, and I can't imagine people with (Sparen's) sophistication, intelligence, and financial acumen would buy a property on a trashy street. I tell you, it's not."
Ultimately, the city commission concurred. Commissioner Bill Wells argued that there is a viable project on the site. Commissioners Jordan Huizenga and Tim Downing said that they struggled with the decision, but to follow the code, they upheld the UDRB's decision. Commissioner Michelle Williams also voted with the others.
Mayor Joe Meyer, who acknowledged that UDRB member Chris Meyer is his son and that he had a recent lunch with Joe Stevie but said that the case had not been discussed with either of those parties, also voted to support the UDRB.
"It is a question of whether the UDRB did its job correctly and did they have a reasonable basis for their finding of some economic or reasonable use of the property, and based on my reviews, I think they made a case and there economically viable alternatives to demolition," the mayor said.
Sparen has the option to appeal to Kenton County Circuit Court, an option most recently chosen by Columbia Sussex, the previous owner of the Bavarian Brewery site, which wanted to raze that historic building while the UDRB and others argued that there was an economically viable alternative. Similarly, Columbia Sussex did not present a development plan for the site, only a case for demolition. Ultimately, the Kenton County Fiscal Court opted to buy the property and is in the process of developing the site and likely much of the existing historic building into the new campus for the county government.
"The remedy is very simple," Mayor Meyer said. "Come up with a plan, tell the UDRB what you want to do with the property. You do not have to wait a year. Then, demolition is in fact a possibility."
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher