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Published: Saturday, 5/8/2004

Civil rights complaint filed over site access

BY MIKE JONES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Keith Mitchell, an attorney and a member of Alpha Phi Boule, a fraternity of professional African-Americans, contends in the filing that he has been denied access to the Sylvania house because of his race. The fraternity has been active in attempts to keep the house at its location across Main Street from the church and a parish middle school.

The house has been documented in local history as having once been a stop on the Underground Railroad, providing temporary sanctuary to slaves in the basement from a ravine access as they escaped the South to Canada. The church wants to relocate the house to provide space for a new school, athletic fields, and other campus uses.

Mr. Mitchell's complaint also alleges that he has been denied access to the shelter house at Harroun Community Park and to the ravine that is adjacent to the house.

Mr. Mitchell said he hopes the commission will take the matter to the Ohio attorney general to seek an injunction against moving the house.

Church officials privately contracted to have the house removed from its foundation. Work on the site began Thursday.

Michael McGowan, an attorney for the parish, said yesterday that he had not seen the complaint and could not comment on it. Also named in the action are the Toledo Catholic Diocese, which is the listed owner of the Lathrop House property, and the city of Sylvania.

The city earlier fenced off the park shelter house, and Craig Stough, Sylvania mayor, said electrical equipment is scheduled to be in the area for rides at a church festival next weekend. He said the action was taken as a safety precaution.

Yesterday morning, the delivery of blocks of timber for use in moving Lathrop House was delayed briefly when a handful of preservationists who oppose the relocation walked into the driveway of the house as a truck with the blocks approached.

Sylvania police were called to the scene by Jim Floyd, St. Joseph parish's business manager.

The delay lasted only minutes before the people dispersed and the large semi-trailer then backed onto the property. Workers continued to prepare the house to be moved slightly to the east.

Mr. Floyd said the plan is for the house to remain at its temporary location until the city of Sylvania prepares a site within Harroun Community Park, where the house is to be permanently located.

Toledo Area Metroparks has agreed to refurbish the building and run educational programs there.

The city had accepted a deadline of May 15 for moving the house. In a letter sent Thursday to Mayor Stough, church officials noted that one of the reasons the parish was acting is that it was clear the city wouldn't meet that deadline.

John McHugh, an attorney who represented the city in its attempt to take the house by eminent domain, criticized that agreement when it was approved by City Council and laid the blame on the mayor.

Mr. Stough said yesterday that he had stated publicly that the city wouldn't be able to meet the deadline but that the agreement kept the house in place since it was reached in March. Without the agreement, he said, the parish could have done anything it chose to do with the structure.

The city is getting proposals from companies that can remove some of the trees that might have to come down to facilitate the house's move, and from companies interested in digging a basement and installing a new foundation at the new location in Harroun park. It is expected to review those bids at its meeting May 17.

The diocese bought the house in October, 2001, to make way for the expansion. The matter has been at the center of controversy since, both within the parish and beyond.

The parish agreed to hold off on demolition while funds were collected to move the structure, but the dispute grew when preservationists demanded that the house remain on its site. Preservationists have argued that the parish has plans that would allow the church to keep the house in its current location and still expand elsewhere on the property.

Contact Mike Jones at:

mjones@toledoblade.com

or 419-724-6096.



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