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Jacksonville officials admit error in demolishing Historic Springfield homes using federal stimulus dollars

11:06 PM, Oct 21, 2013   |    comments
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  • 129 East 2nd Street in better days
  • One of many Springfield buildings "tagged" with a heart -- the hallmark of Preservation SOS
  • This house on Ionia Street has been given at least a temporary reprieve until the city reevaluates its NSP fund procedures.
    
 PDF Document: Ashanta BarkerEmail

Jacksonville, Fla. -- You see the hearts throughout Springfield - painted on historic homes in foreclosure, or structures threatened with demolition. But the group behind the hearts - Preservation Save Our Springfield -- has found the biggest threat to homes isn't time or decay - it may be the city's failure to follow the rules.

On May 23, the house at 129 East 2nd Street came crashing down. Built in 1905, the two story home had been targeted by Springfield advocates for preservation. 

Just 24 hours before it was demolished, the city's Historic Planning Commission had approved a request from Preservation SOS to seek to shore up the home, rather than see it destroyed.
The city chose to proceed with the tear-down.

Then, less than 30 days later, another demolition 253 E. 2nd Street - just one block away.

In both cases, the city used money from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program - stimulus dollars -- to demolish the homes. While that money can be used for demolition, even in a designated historic district like Springfield, the city must first conduct a detailed analysis; know as a Section 106 review.

Preservation SOS spokesperson Kim Pryor observes that did not happen. "A Section 106 review has not been done. I can't tell you when the last time a Section 106 review was done for any of the demolitions here in Springfield."

The city's ordinance code doesn't favor demolition in historic neighborhoods. It says the city should remove structures only in the event of an "extreme and imminent public safety hazard" and further says, "the remedy shall be limited to the least-intrusive means to minimize the impact to the historic fabric. Consideration shall be given to bracing or other stabilization alternatives if such would be sufficient to abate the emergency conditions."

First Coast News asked the city to explain its process for demolition. Late last week, the city for the first time acknowledged it had misused NSP funds.  

In a letter sent last Thursday, the chief of the city's Neighborhoods Dept, Terrance Ashanta-Barker says the reviews were not completed as required, and that the money would be returned:
"Our investigation into the two referenced demolitions identified that the Section 106 reviews were not completed," he wrote. " Since these Section 106 reviews were not completed and there were no available exceptions, these demolitions were not eligible for reimbursement under the City's NSP program. " 

He added that it would be "necessary to return the program funds." 

While the city acknowledges misspending NSP funds on those two homes, Preservation SOS officials contend the city has done the same thing to at least eight other homes in Springfield - and as many as 50 houses throughout the city. 

If the city has to reimburse the feds for those demolitions, it could cost taxpayers plenty.

"I would think it could be millions," said Gloria Devall of Preservation SOS. "We just got through the budget just got through talking about all this money -- and we could have a potential problems on our hands."

Regardless of the final tally, activists in Springfield say they aren't going to tolerate another tear-down. So besides painting hearts on threatened buildings, they're prepared to put themselves between the homes and the bulldozers.

"I've got my big old fat padlock and chain in my truck," said Pryor. "We've already talked about it. We'll chain ourselves to the houses -- we just can't afford to have any more come down. There's no reason for it"

The city has agreed to halt Springfield demolitions until it can review its procedures. 

But the city could be on the hook for the $400,000 in NSP funds it has already used for demolition. 

A meeting between city officials and preservation advocates scheduled to discuss the issue Tuesday was cancelled earlier today. 

The city did not respond to our request for an interview.

First Coast News

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