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Published: Thursday, 5/12/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Aurora House's master plan hits snag over fate of property

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Aurora House wants to demolish the century-old cross-gabled Dutch colonial style that neighbors in the historic Vistula neighborhood say is the last of its kind. The nonprofit says it's beyond saving. Aurora House wants to demolish the century-old cross-gabled Dutch colonial style that neighbors in the historic Vistula neighborhood say is the last of its kind. The nonprofit says it's beyond saving.
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Nestled within the Vistula Historic District, Aurora House has a long-term plan to occupy a greater portion of its North Toledo neighborhood.

The nonprofit organization, which provides transitional housing and life-skills programs for homeless women and their children, envisions one day converting five neighboring properties into apartments for clients ready to leave the shelter of Aurora House but not yet ready for permanent housing.

It also would like to build a structure for offices that would fit in with the historic district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"It was really based on the idea that we need to do something for our women. We have to do something so that we are providing safety and security because again, that's what we're supposed to be about," explained Denise Fox, executive director. "We decided to look within the neighborhood and try to identify some properties that might work for us."

In a half-block area bounded by Superior, Elm, and Huron streets, she can see well-kept buildings and greenspace the whole neighborhood could enjoy.

"I see, and I think Aurora sees, an opportunity to make this a community project, to pull in our neighbors and really create a face not just for Aurora but for the neighbors as well, for the neighborhood," Ms. Fox said.

While Aurora's "master plan vision" has been on the drawing board for several years, the agency has not purchased any additional property. Before it moves ahead with the long-range plan, Aurora wants to tear down the boarded-up "blue house," as it's known in the neighborhood, next door. It acquired the century-old, 5,000-square-foot house on North Superior Street and an adjacent carriage house in 2005 for the price of back taxes.

Last month, the Vistula Historic Commission voted 4-0 to approve the demolition plan. Barbara Leighton, who owns a house across the street, has appealed the commission's decision to the Toledo-Lucas County Planning Commission, which meets at 2 p.m. Thursday in City Council chambers at One Government Center to hear her case.

Ms. Leighton said the blue house, which is a cross-gable Dutch colonial style, is the last of its kind in the historic district. She wants to see it properly secured and mothballed while funds are raised for its restoration or, as an alternative, sold to a new owner.

"It needs to be preserved for the next generation," she said. "It's too simple for people to just say tear it down."

Richard Martinez, chairman of the Vistula Historic Commission, said Aurora House has been a good neighbor, but he hates to continue losing the grand old homes that are part of Vistula -- Toledo's oldest neighborhood.

"Here is another fine example of architecture in Toledo that was purposely neglected," he said. "There are back taxes unpaid on that, and whether they had the idea to restore that building or not, when they came before the commission several years ago, the impression we got was they were going to restore both of those buildings."

Aurora's board president, Douglas Martin, said that when the agency acquired the two buildings in 2005, it intended to renovate both into apartments for Aurora House clients with financial help from the city. Funding only materialized for the carriage house, though, and that has been renovated into two apartments.

The much larger house next door is now water-damaged, stripped of most anything of value inside, and, Mr. Martin said, beyond saving.

"As the months and years went by, it became very evident that we will never be able to rehab that house. We had financial estimates done. We had environmental studies done," Mr. Martin said. "We have kept it safe and secure as best you can, but we came to the realization that this isn't going to happen. Let's look at a different vision."

While Mr. Martinez said he's uneasy with the prospect of Aurora acquiring more old homes on the block, Mr. Martin said that may not necessarily happen.

"We don't really want to be in the property ownership business," he said. "If there's an option out there with developers or individuals who want to own properties and let us rent and lease, that's a pretty good business model for us."

He and Ms. Fox said Aurora House and its neighbors have similar goals. "We're not property barons. We don't really want to own," Mr. Martin said. "It just would be nice to have a nice little neighborhood here."

"That says it all," Ms. Fox added. "I think we want what our neighbors want. We don't want a crime-ridden neighborhood. We want a place that's safe for everyone."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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