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Published: Wednesday, 6/18/2008

Tiffin panel sets up rules for Seneca County courthouse talks

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - Conceding they are treading new ground, members of Tiffin's Architectural Board of Review met yesterday to figure out how to approach talks with the Seneca County commissioners about alternatives to demolishing the 1884 courthouse.

While the board discussed no specific proposals, it laid the ground rules for the first negotiation session with the county commissioners, set for 2:30 p.m. Monday at the municipal building.

The public will not be permitted to comment during the session, though Franklin Conaway, a Chillicothe, Ohio, preservation consultant who addressed the board at last week's hearing on the demolition request, will be invited to participate, the board decided. Doug Collar, who represents the Tiffin Historic Trust on the review board, suggested the board invite Mr. Conaway to "act as a consultant in our deliberations."

"I was thinking that we might benefit from some fresh thinking," Mr. Collar said, adding that it's important that the board be prepared to discuss alternatives to razing the courthouse.

"I'd like to keep [the discussion] as open, as friendly, and as productive as possible," Mr. Collar said.

"I think the danger is you're going to have a position without alternatives. By ordinance, we have an obligation to pursue alternatives," he said.

Last week, the review board voted 5-0 to deny the county's application for a certificate of appropriateness for full demolition of the courthouse.

Removing the landmark, they decided, was not consistent with the 2000 city ordinance that established the review board to protect the downtown "from actions that would destroy historic and cultural resources unique to Tiffin, Ohio."

Yesterday, the board briefly discussed whether to allow the public to speak at Monday's meeting.

"I feel the public has already had the opportunity to speak, and the negotiations are between us and the applicant," said board member Mario Livojevic, assistant city engineer.

Downtown business owner David Koehl agreed.

"Public input on this seems to be very, very one-sided," he said. "While I greatly respect them the points they would make have been well-aired on numerous occasions for many years."

About a dozen local preservationists attended yesterday's meeting, as did Commissioner Dave Sauber.

Dr. Robert Yager, chairman of the review board, said afterward that this will be the first time the board will be negotiating with a downtown property owner over demolition plans.

The only other demolition he could recall was in 2002, when the county commissioners asked for - and received - approval to raze the 1877 sheriff's residence and jail.

Although Dr. Yager could not recall how the board reached its decision on that matter, minutes from the June 18, 2002, hearing indicate that the building had undergone numerous alterations, that its brick was badly deteriorated, and that the cost of renovation was excessive.

The review board approved both the demolition and plans for construction of the courthouse annex that was ultimately built on the site by 3-0 votes.

Dr. Yager said he did not have specific ideas that he could present to the commissioners on Monday.

"We have to remember this application is for a full demolition only, and I think that's where we have addressed our concerns," he said. "We haven't addressed what comes next."

Mr. Collar, one of six residents who sued the commissioners last year to halt the demolition of the courthouse, said after the meeting that he believed having Mr. Conaway could bring a fresh perspective to the debate.

Mr. Conaway suggested last week the county might build a new courthouse on an alternate downtown site and preserve the 1884 courthouse for another, unspecified purpose.

"I'm not opposed to new construction if it doesn't mean demolition of that one-of-a-kind courthouse," Mr. Collar said.

"I think there could be a consensus reached if we could find a third way to do it."

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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