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Dayton Board OKs Demolition of Home for Church Parking Lot

The Dayton Board of Architectural Review voted 2-1 on Thursday night to allow the demolition of an 1890s home to make way for a parking lot for First Baptist Church.

The vote could have ended up tied, 2-2, forcing the board chair to break the tie, but member Christina Kelly, who submitted a letter for the record in which she expressed discomfort with the demolition, was out of town on business.

516 Dayton Avenue will follow 512 Dayton Avenue in being razed to add parking for the church.

Reverend Harold Pike told the board that it was a matter of life or death for the church that he said needs more people than it needs more parking. But the people would need parking.

"You have to have parking if you're going to have more people," Pike said. "There was a time when people walked to church. Those days are gone. Several of our people come in two cars. The walking days over."

The reverend, who has worked at inner city churches for 47 years, said congregations like his are shutting down across the country. Pike added, "If we get parking, chances are pretty high we make it. If we don't, chances are, we don't."

"We want to live."

First Baptist Church of Dayton has existed for 167 years, 123 of which have been at its current location.

As church members moved out of the city, but still attend worship services there, the demand for parking increased, often causing consternation for neighbors who saw public parking gobbled up by church-goers on Sundays.

"Our folks know not to park in front of people's houses but newcomers don't know that, and oftentimes they get a pretty nasty note that this belongs to us, not you, and to stay away," Pike said.

The house is more than 125 years old but owners Keith and Valerie Bleser contend that it is not historic because of its current condition. The house survived a fire and had an addition put on. Though Valerie Bleser said that her son lives in it, the home does not generate income.

Since they purchased the home, it has lost a third of its tax value, according to the Campbell County Property Valuation Administrator (PVA). What was once valued at $67,000 is now around $45,000.

"For the value of the home, to rehab the home, you're going to lose," Valerie Bleser said. "It's not going to be worth its value to rehab."

The Blesers said that they accepted a low offer from the church.

However, as defined by city ordinance, the home is considered an historically contributing property within the Dayton historic preservation overlay.

Similar properties across the Northern Kentucky river cities have been salvaged, said Margo Warminski, who serves as a technical adviser to the board.

"There is a growing market for this in the Northern Kentucky river cities," she said. 

Some who spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting added to that sentiment.

"It's a cute little house," Doug Sovonick said. "If your application gets denied, put it on the market because I would come take a look."

But the Blesers contended that there was little appeal in rehabbing the home because it is now already next to a parking lot, as the church adds spaces at 512 Dayton, and is surrounded by businesses rather than other homes.

Still, the demolition continues recent precedent in Dayton to tear down old buildings. Multiple buildings were recently razed near Monument Park on Berry Street where a new city building is expected to be constructed at some point.

That concerns some residents.

"One of the reasons why we came to Dayton is because there were affordable historic houses in this area," said Beth Fields. "In our time here, we've seen a few homes be demolished whether inhabitable or not. In my opinion, it's becoming an epidemic."

Fields added that demolition in favor of parking may be short-sighted if trends move against vehicular traffic to other modes of travel and access.

Others spoke in favor of the demolition and applauded when the approval was granted, including City Clerk Donna Leger, a member of the church.

"It's more valuable to let the church have what they need than to rehab this home, which we don't know, may not even be rehabbable," Leger said.

In her letter to the board, member Christina Kelly said that the home may have been the site of the first post office in Dayton. "It may also be of significance to the history of the town," she wrote. "The building is located within a residential neighborhood containing other buildings from the same time period and together they create a cohesive multi-use setting of single and multi-family residential buildings, commercial properties, and religious buildings."

The lot at 512 Dayton will add 17 parking spaces for the church while it expects to gain 7 more from the demolition of 516, Pike said.

When it came time to vote, board member Kelly Barrett voted against, while members Robert Schrage and Tracy Codell voted in favor. Because there was no tie, board chair Tom Ranson did not have to vote.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: 516 Dayton Avenue (via Campbell Co. PVA)