Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Stambaugh Building boarded up - What's wrong with this picture?

Last week there was an incident in downtown Youngstown at the Stambaugh Building. The Business Journal indicates that workmen were in the process of removing some windows from the building when a window fell from the structure to the parking lot below. The Stambaugh Building has now had over 100 windows removed. The stated reason is that the windows were dangerous and leaky so the developers (Lou Frangos)decided to remove the windows from the historic building.

The Stambaugh Building has a long and historic past. It was designed by Albert Kahn, one of Detroit's most important architects in neo-classical revival design. The building started out as a Euwers Department Store which was one of first department stores to incorporate a restaturant. Euwers Department Store 2 After the store moved the building became an office building that was later to house Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co., and Standard Slag.

It is a travesty that the windows have been removed from this historic landmark. There is little that is more discouraging than a drive through our downtown only to look up at one of its most prominent buildings to see that the windows have been replaced by plywood. The citizens of Youngstown will not stand for this. The windows must be replaced and very soon. For an ongoing story about the issue go to Shout Youngstown.The Shout Youngstown blog also has links to local talk show radio programs where the issue of the windows is discussed, as well as video of the site. The Reason Blog on the Vindy site has also posted an article about the problem and is asking for comments to be posted. Also please sign this petition demanding that the city take action against the owner/developer of this building.

The citizens of Youngstown are not the kind to just sit passively by while a developer systematically destroys our city. We are an action oriented type of people. In keeping with that fine tradition an action plan has been proposed to the city of Youngstown about the stabilization of the Stambaugh Building. A draft if this proposal may be found a Youngstown Renaissance

What is happening here is demolition by neglect. This term is used to describe a situation in which a historic property is intentionally allowed to suffer from deterioration, potentially beyond the point of repair. Property owners many times engage in this type of affirmative strategy of neglect to circumvent historic preservation regulations. Here, in Youngstown, it appears that the owner of the Stambaugh Building has this in mind. He has told the press that he believes that the building is a lost cause.

The issue of demolition by neglect is becoming a nationwide concern. It is one of the most serious problems affecting the fabric of our historic neighborhoods and cities. The most important tool for controlling demolition by neglect is to pass a carefully drafted city ordinance that requires affirmative maintenance. This ordinance should apply to not only historical buildings but also those buildings that are determined by the city to be significant or contributory to the overall community. Although Youngstown has a design and review committee that addresses the issues of restoration and repair, there does not appear to be an ordinance regarding demolition by neglect.

Such an ordinance might read like this one:

The owner, lessee,or other person in actual charge of a significant or contributory building shall comply with all applicable codes, laws, and regulations governing the maintenance of property. It is the intent of this law to preserve from deliberate, intentional, or inadvertent neglect the exterior features of buildings designated significant or contributory, and the interior portions thereof when such maintenance is necessary to prevent deterioration and decay of the exterior. All such buildings shall be preserved against such decay and deterioration and shall be free from structural defects through prompt corrections of any of the following defects:
1. Facades which may fall and injure members of the public or property.
2. Deteriorated or inadequate foundation, defective or deteriorated flooring or floor supports, deteriorated walls or other vertical structural supports.
3. Members of ceilings, roofs, ceiling and roof supports or other horizontal members which sag, split or buckle due to defective material or deterioration.
4. Deteriorated or ineffective waterproofing of exterior walls, roofs, foundations, or floors, including broken windows or doors.
5. Defective or insufficient weather protection for exterior wall covering, including lack of paint or weathering due to lack of paint or other protective covering.
6. Any fault or defect in the building which renders it not properly watertight or structurally unsafe.

It is also important that this provision come equipped with adequate remedies and enforcement authority. In addition a legal course of action for assessing whether or not demolition by neglect is actually occurring must be developed.

This criteria could potentially include:

1. Identification by the building code inspectors or third parties that a potential problem exists followed-up by an inspection to determine the condition of the building.
2. The findings should then be presented at a public hearing to a Commission set up for this purpose. A report detailing the defects in the building would be presented and the owner given thirty days to respond to the preliminary determination by providing a document detailing the specific work which is necessary to correct the "Demolition by Neglect" conditions and a time limit proposed for starting and completing the work.
3. If the owner fails to respond the matter would then be referred to the Commission for a citation hearing. If after appropriate notices are sent and the owner fails to respond, the building is posted with a notice of the violation in accordance with the provision of the Demolition by Neglect Ordinance and another public hearing called.
4. At the public hearing the owner is given an opportunity to show cause. The Commission would vote regarding whether the citation for Demolition by Neglect is appropriate.
5. If the owner fails to correct the problem or take steps to correct the problem within ten days the matter is turned over to the City Attorney's Office for action in Civil Court.
6. In addition to civil actions against the owner/owners misdemeanor criminal penalties should apply and be strictly enforced. These would include a criminal fine of $150.00 for the first offense. Whoever is convicted of a second violation for a second or subsequent offense within a period of two years from the date of the next prior conviction would be guilty of a misdemeanor of the fourth degree and shall be fined $250.00 or imprisoned for thirty days or both. Each day of the violation would constitute a separate offense.

Please provide your thoughts and concerns about such a ordinance and provision by commenting on this blog.


Tyler said...

great post, deb. thanks for pulling these thoughts together. I think you're right that this is a real danger, and I hope the city does not delay too long before contracting the windows put back into place if Frangos doesn't do it himself.

Kris said...


Thank you for providing the legal angle and solution. The city needs to act immediately.

Anonymous said...

I can understand Youngstown not wanting to view boarded up windows downtown after all the great progress that has been made there.
However,the suggested Ordinance is unnecessary & it has some practical problems . 10 days is insufficient time to respond . Have you tried to recruit skilled tradespeople lately - with so much rehabbing taking place now, these people are in short supply.
Also, imprisonment wouldn't be a deterrent . Firstly, many buildings are held corporately & as one King of England observed - "I can't hang the common seal" . Secondly, many owners live well outside Ohio or even ( as in my case ) in other countries. My properties are in a prominent location in Youngstown & I keep them looking good because I want to improve the image of the neighborhood so that , over time, I improve tenant quality & rent income . But let's say I let the buildings decay - would the City seek an extradition order to bring me back to USA ? Probably not, & that makes imprisonment a pointless sanction .
Youngstown building owners have a difficult task on their hands trying to rebuild a City scarred by social & economic neglect long before symptoms showed up in the condition of its buildings.

H Stambaugh said...

Just wanted to say thanks for trying to keep this building from being demolished.