Scathing HUD review puts Jacksonville on the hook for improper demolitions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Patterson Apartment building stood for 100 years until it was reduced to rubble in July 2011 -- just one of an estimated 450 buildings torn down in Jacksonville's Springfield neighborhood since it was designated a National Historic Preservation district in 1987.

Not all of the teardowns were conducted by the city. But the pattern of city demolitions prompted outrage and, ultimately, closer scrutiny by local preservationists. Two homes in particular – on East 2nd Street, demolished within days of each other – raised questions about whether the city was conducting required historic reviews before tearing down homes.

As it turned out, the answer was no. The questions raised by preservationists are backed up by a scathing audit released by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"The federal [National Stabilization] funds are there to stabilize a neighborhood," says Gloria DeVall, vice president of Preservation Save Our Springfield. "And clearly demolishing structures in a historic district is not stabilizing a neighborhood."

SOS member Kim Pryor agrees. She's been conducting her own review of demolitions to see if the city conducted the required historic assessments, known as Section 106 reviews, prior to demolitions. She says the HUD audit "is the tip of the iceberg."

Auditors came to Jacksonville in March and reviewed 18 case files at random. "Basically every file reviewed had compliance issues," the report noted, adding that the city, "currently lacks the capacity to ensure compliance."

City officials admit the error, and have agreed to pay back $160,000. But they have just 90 days to correct errors in how they processed another $545,000 in federal funds. If they can't demonstrate they followed the rules, the city will have to repay that money as well.

For preservationists like Pryor, the audit validates their findings, but the damage is done. "This [review] wasn't done, and now we now have two vacant lots that are overgrown than more of a blight than the house that was standing."


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