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Blighted property nears May 14 demolition deadline

City waiting for potential receivers to step forward

Left to right: Second-grade students Ry D’Ettore, Reagan Slaubaugh and Logan Husk kick a soccer ball at Harmar Elementary School in view of the blighted public nuisances at 115-117 Gilman Ave. in Marietta on Monday. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Two weeks to the day from the court declaration of blight and public nuisance, 115-117 Gilman Ave. still loomed in the overcast background of Harmar Elementary play Monday.

“We talk about that place being haunted and if there’s a bad guy there or something,” said Reagan Slaubaugh, 8, of Marietta, as she kicked a soccer ball with fellow second-grade students in the grass of the primary school.

If no qualified receiver submits a letter of interest to the city by May 14 to tour the interior of the building, the city will proceed with demolition bidding for the structure.

If one or more letters of interest are submitted by that deadline, a tour of qualified receivers and/or interested demolition bidders will be hosted at the structures by city officials the following week.

“I seriously doubt that that structure will be standing July 1 if somebody doesn’t step to the plate as a receiver,” said Marietta City Law Director Paul Bertram on Monday.

Frequent demolition bidder Ken Strahler, of Ken Strahler Masonry, said Monday he has been asked by a private resident to attend the tour and review what costs would be to stabilize the property which City Project Engineer Eric Lambert noted in a structural assessment entered as evidence last month before the judge as in “immediate danger of collapse.”

If, following that tour, a potential receiver steps forward, the following is required by state law for the Washington County Common Pleas Court before appointing the role:

1. A full estimation of the cost of labor, materials and any other development costs including permitting required to abate the public nuisance.

2. The estimated income and expenses of the building and property on which it is located after furnishing the materials and completion of repairs and improvements.

3. The terms, conditions and availability of any financing that is necessary to perform the work and to furnish the materials.

“That’s what I like to call a construction plan and the financial wherewithal, in writing,” explained Bertram, echoing a separate section of the same Ohio Revised Code Section 3767.41.

That state law summarizes that “prior to selecting any interested party, the judge shall require the interested party to demonstrate the ability to promptly undertake the work and furnish the materials required, to provide the judge with a viable financial and construction plan for the rehabilitation of the building as described in division (D) of this section, and to post security for the performance of the work and the furnishing of the materials.”

Such a plan is required to be submitted to the city no later than June 21, by any potential attendee of the May tour.

JOURNAL ENTRY

At the same time that Slaubaugh played Monday, Bertram turned over the journal entry and all of its copies to Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge John Halliday concerning the formal designation of the two properties as blight and a public nuisance threatening the public peace, health and safety.

Halliday ordered in an April 19 default hearing that the city abate the blight and public nuisance, but those designations and order were not journalized into the written record of the court until Monday afternoon.

“He had the draft last week,” said Bertram. “He has all of my copies to sign, now.”

See the April 20 and 29 editions of the Times for more concerning the arguments of the case.

Bertram outlined the timeline advertised Friday in the Times’ legal ads as a final chance for the Ohio Historical Society, private local developers, business owners, or residents to make a pass at saving the structures.

“Everybody is a private member of the public, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s public interest,” he further explained Monday. “Public interest, if there are a group of people out there that are like-minded that might want to save this and come together as a not-for-profit organization then you could probably state that that would be a public interest but it’s kind of a fine line … From what I’ve seen it’s more of a private interest than it is public.”

As noted by Fort Street resident Tom Fenton in an email to the mayor, safety-service director and law director last Thursday in addition to the ward councilman and a private developer, residents of the lower west side have voiced growing fear of the properties’ threat to the public peace, health and safety for several years.

“The time for developers to make active, credible offers was years ago, but no later than August 13, 2020, when city council was discussing allocation of the money for abatement. While the city fathers and neighbors of 115/117 were following all the rules, the developers were either not paying attention or were standing back, biding their time,” Fenton wrote. “The neighbors have committed, and are formalizing plans, to turn the 115-117 into an attractive, productive neighborhood greenspace, perhaps following the models of Knox Park and the Paul Theisen greenspace. Discussions as to design have included: repurposing large stones from the 115 Gilman structure foundation, planting some of the area as (a) food garden, planting pollinator flowering items for beautification, planting the Doughty Peach which was brought to Marietta by personnel at Fort Harmar in the 1780s, and installing picnic tables or benches. In this era when greenspace is scarce, here is a chance to gain greenspace to make the city more livable and attractive.”

Similar nods to the length of the city’s battle with blight at the two properties were voiced into the public record of Marietta City Council’s special business meeting and committee discussions on the same date.

“It seems to me that we started out to take this house down,” said Councilman Mike Scales. “Three years, and we’re still going blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. My personal opinion is rip it down, forget everything else and just go forward. Because if we start the whole rigamarole, well a timeframe. If they don’t meet a timeframe is there an excuse? ‘Well, yeah we got an excuse.’ That’s my biggest concern. “

According to Merriam-Webster, rigamarole is defined as confused or meaningless talk.

In summary of the discussion, Planning, Zoning, Annexation and Housing Chairman Geoff Schenkel and Bertram noted that the earliest the structure could be torn down on city dime would be in June.

Bertram noted both on Thursday and Monday that if no qualified receiver, as defined by state law, submits a qualified construction plan with estimates and financial resources to complete work in a “reasonable” timeframe a second demolition legal advertisement and bid package is to be prepared.

HISTORIC PRESERVATION

“Sam and I used to drive and look at all of these old houses, and he’d sometimes say for a really bad one, ‘that’s even beyond Nancy Hoy,'” described Harmar Principal Cheryl Cook of her late husband Samuel Cook. “Nancy was really into saving old properties and she could do so much. But I think he’d say of that one on Gilman, it’s even beyond Nancy Hoy.”

Nancy Borden Hoy, 85, of Marietta, died in October of 2018 and was known locally for helping local residents and business owners entering their properties on the National Register of Historic Places and known by state departments and agencies for her preparation of the Muskingum River Navigation Historic District nomination to the National Register in 2007.

“She did so much on both historic register structures and on the contributing structures to the historic districts,” confirmed Bertram.

According to the National Park Service, 115-117 Gilman Ave. are designated as “contributing structures” but are not specifically listed on the National Register of Historic Places of their own accord though noted as the home and offices of one Dr. Seth Hart.

Hoy is noted as a preparer of the city of Marietta historical inventory that describes the two Gilman Avenue properties in a March 2003 document.

“Built by B.I. Gilman; sold to Seth Hart in 1836, a physician,” she wrote in the city document.

According to a set of public record emails between the city development administrator and the state preservation office, the city has “no responsibilities to coordinate” with the state preservation office under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to follow the judge’s order to abate the nuisance and blight of the two properties.

According to federal law, contributing structures are defined as a building “which by location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association adds to the district’s sense of time and place and historical development” (see 36 CFR – 67.5 – Standards for evaluating significance within registered historic districts.)

The two Gilman structures are noted by the National Park Service’s records of Marietta’s application to designate portions of the lower west side as the Harmar Historic District, which was first noted in federal records in December of 1974 and updated to expand the whole district in August of 1993.

A separate Hart-Huling house is recognized by the National Park Service and is the present-day home of Offenberger and White at 521 Fort Street also in the lower west side.

Marietta also notes Hart Street on its city maps, on the lower east side of the Muskingum River.

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