Thursday, July 10, 2008

Death on Dandridge

Due to a poor economy and a lack of City attention, Over-the-Rhine's Pendleton neighborhood has more abandoned buildings added to its collection.

The first phase of the Galleries at Pendleton project, a string of eight townhomes along , has stalled indefinitely.

"The main thing that contributed is the economy," says Gary Zakem, owner and founder of developer Gary Mark Custom Homes. "We're just caught in the crossfire."

As envisioned, the two-phased project would have included 17 townhomes - with eight on Dandridge Street, five on Pendleton Street and four on Spring Street - on land obtained from the Over-the-Rhine Foundation and from the City of Cincinnati.

Units would have ranged from between 1,100 and 2,500 square feet and would have been priced from $165,000 to $400,000.

Zakem says that Dandridge Street was the best place to start because it was considered the cheapest site for the first phase, and there were pre-existing plans.

"The City held this big ceremony, with all kinds of public officials," he says. "And everyone was talking about how great it was going to be."

After investing more than $500,000 in retaining walls and other infrastructure in the project, things began to fall apart quickly.

Zakem says that the City refused to issue him building permits until he replaced the entire street's water line - including new tap-ins to existing properties - at a cost of $75,000.

"They told me that the original, old water line wasn't sufficient to service eight condos," he says. "And then the Cincinnati Water Works goes out and replaces every single water line in Pendleton except for the one on Dandridge."

To make matters worse, open-air drug dealing was allowed to continue at the despite numerous attempts to have the dealers run off.

"To be honest, with the sheriff's patrols, it got a little better," Zakem says. "But it was hard to bring people down there with a dozen young guys hanging out on the corner. Some people were too afraid to even get out of the car."

In addition to feeling unsafe, the street was unattractive due to the inattention of street sweepers and litter crews.

"They said that the litter was my problem," he says. "It's a real shame. That could be a really nice area with places like the Pendleton Art Center around."

Though most of Zakem's work has occurred in the region's northern suburbs, he does have City building experience at the Villages of Daybreak in Bond Hill.

But Zakem says that this time he felt "jacked around" by the City's permitting process.

"I couldn't get someone to pass off a permit to a person in another department, who was literally 20 feet away," he says. "It just sat there on the desk. I went in there personally to get it done, and the person had left for the day early."

Despite the problems, Zakem did have two buyers place deposits on units in 2006, but eventually lost them when the promised improvements never came and the project stalled.

"We had a lot of interest in it," he says. "But then we'd bring people down there to see it, and they'd be turned off. You'd have to be pretty liberal-minded to want to live there."

So what is the future of the Galleries at Pendleton?

"It's dead in the water," Zakem says.

Zakem says that there's no way that he can possibly complete the project, and that no City officials have offered any assistance in getting the project done.

"It's going to sit there until someone purchases it, I guess," he says.

Still standing are two vacant 1870s-era buildings at 1333-1335 Pendleton Street, which were to be demolished for the project's second phase.

Now, they'll likely remain there until the City tears them down.

"The roofs are damaged and it's just letting the water in," Zakem says. "They're pretty much just shells, and they're not structurally sound."

Zakem says he never did ask for any City money, but they could have done other things to help.

"The City could have supported the surrounding area more," he says. "They could have made it safer, and more desirable. Looking back, we could have partnered together to help me avoid all of these problems."

Previous reading on BC:
Galleries at Pendleton photo update, 2/16/08 (2/22/08)
Photo update: The Galleries at Pendleton (8/31/07)


Radarman said...

It would have made much more sense to start on Spring or Pendleton streets. The Dandridge site was beyond unconventional. It was almost oppressive, with very little sunlight. It would also have helped to hire a competent architect. The houses are decidedly unlovely.

D R E W said...

i have always thought pendleton could be amazing, but it's seems so unsafe and forgotten. it's too bad this project couldn't be finished.

Matt Ross said...

My wife had a space at the PAC for a year, and I used to go down there with her sometimes just to see what was going on with the area... which wasn't too much. Really sad considering the history of the area and the beautiful homes surrounding it. Thanks for the update, but really depressing.

gerard said...

This kind of jerking around by the city seems even worse than usual.

There's something about the Pendleton area that makes everyone overlook it. Maybe it's because it doesn't have a Music Hall or Washington Park like western OTR, or the financial backing of Gateway Q, or the bar and club history of Main St.

It's as if that edge of OTR will always be the last to the party.

If only Broadway Commons was built, those homes could have been sold as two blocks from the ballpark.

dew said...

Great post Kevin. It's great to hear it from the developer himself.

I really feel the developer dropped the ball early on by not getting assistance from the city. Anytime you build new, market-rate single-family homes in a depressed area, the city has plenty of programs/funds to assist.

And the water line issue is nuts - waterworks should have replaced that and eaten the cost, not the developer. I wonder if there is more to that story...

Agreed Radarman - the houses are not spectacular, and yes, Spring/Pendleton Streets are a lot more desirable. I just hope someone gets ahold of those lots and builds something awesome there. How about a green development???

Kevin LeMaster said...

I should add that the City was going to provide some funding for the Pendleton/Spring portion of the project to defray some of the infrastructure costs.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with Dandridge Street except it is in Cincinnati. Strategically is is not as troublesome as being on 13th.

Cincinnati has a knack for discouraging people from doing anything. It is amazing that the city claims to be shooting for creative people with such an anal-retentive mentality at city hall.

Actually, we would be better off without a building and zoning department. OTR was built without one; maybe it could be built again without one.

As to the water main, the city is responsible for providing water period. That is why they ar able to charge a minimum charge even if one does not use the water unless they agree to have it removed. The City has snakes working or I should say putting in time.

What do the Nazi council people say about this issue?

Dieter Schmied