Historic homes will be moved, not demolished

An agreement has been reached to move two “historic” Grafton Hill homes targeted for demolition, and the project could set a new precedent for how historic tax credits can be used to help preservation efforts.

Grafton Hill Community Development Corp. has until Nov. 6 to move two homes at 36 and 52 Grafton Ave.

The homes belong to the Dayton Masonic Foundation, which wants them removed to make way for a rear entrance and parking lot at the Dayton Masonic Center, located at 525 W. Riverview Ave.

The Grafton Hill group said they plan to use historic tax credits to help defray the costs of moving and rehabilitating the homes.

State officials said the project shows that the historic tax credit program can be a tool to help preserve significant buildings that are threatened by demolition.

“This is not something that’s routine,” said Justin Cook, technical preservation services manager at the Ohio History Connection’s State Historic Preservation Office. “Typically, buildings that are rehabilitated remain at the same place.”

Earlier this year, the Dayton Masonic Foundation received permission from the Landmarks Commission to demolish the pair of homes it purchased on Grafton Avenue.

The Dayton Masonic Center needs additional parking and a new entrance so its tenant, Elite Catering, can wheel in items through the basement and avoid rolling over the center’s marble floors, said Terry Posey Jr., an attorney with Thompson Hine who represents the Masonic foundation.

But members of the Grafton Hill Community Development Corp. strongly opposed demolition and pushed hard to relocate the residences to nearby vacant land on Central Avenue.

Members claim the homes are historically significant and must remain intact to preserve the “integrity” of the Grafton Hill historic district. The dispute over the properties dates back to at least January 2014.

Dayton’s landmarks commission gave the Masonic Center permission to demolish the structures after Sept. 15 if a relocation deal could not be worked out.

As the deadline drew near, the Grafton Hill group filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to block the demolition. The court last week granted a temporary restraining order.

Earlier this week, representatives of the city of Dayton, the Masonic foundation and the Grafton Hill group met and reached an agreement that sets a firm time table for the relocation.

Grafton Hill Community Development Corp. has until Nov. 6 to relocate the homes. After that, the Dayton Masonic Foundation will be free to level the structures.

Posey said the agreement is fair to both sides and finally should bring a resolution to the issue.

“There was no inherent desire to demolish these properties for the sake of demolition,” Posey said. “This is more about the preservation of the Masonic Center than it was about these houses.”

The relocation should take several hours and will require lifting utility line, said Dan Barton, the vice president of the Grafton Hill Community Development Corp.

The move is expected cost about $49,000, but those expenses should qualify for dollar-for-dollar historic tax credits, and so should rehabilitation work, Barton said.

“This certainly will be a precedent-setting event in the state of Ohio, which has never facilitated a preservation by move with historic tax credits,” he said.

The application process for historic tax credits is three parts.

This project has fulfilled the requirements of the first part of the evaluation, which establishes the buildings are eligible for incentives, said Cook, with the State Historic Preservation Office

The application is under review to determine if the proposed work complies with standards for rehabilitation, he said.

Even if the costs of moving the building are determined not to be a qualified expense for tax credits, this project still shows historic buildings can benefit from tax credits after they are relocated and rehabilitated, Cook said.

The state does not usually advocate moving buildings, because the historic site typically is part of the significance of the property, Cook said.

But the applicant has demonstrated the significance of these homes lies more in their architecture and contribution to a broader historic district, which will not be hurt by the move, he said.