By BRADEN LAMMERS
JEFFERSONVILLE — The Indiana Department of Transportation will have to find somewhere else to place a home being moved to make way for the Ohio River Bridges Project.
Jeffersonville’s Board of Zoning Appeals denied a variance to move a home from 116 Fort St. to a vacant lot at 409 E. Maple St. The home was one of the properties slated to be moved as part of a settlement agreement the state reached with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
According to the settlement agreement, priority was given to relocate five homes that contributed to the historic character of downtown Jeffersonville slated for destruction to make way for the bridges project, with a preference to relocate them within in the city’s historic district. The settlement agreement was the result of a lawsuit between the National Trust for Historic Preservation, conservancy group River Fields Inc., the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Transportation.
To resolve the legal action and be able to move forward on the Ohio River Bridges project, the states’ transportation agencies agreed to dedicate $1.7 million to a historic preservation and enhancement fund. The relocation of the five homes were given priority consideration for the funding.
Greg Sekula, director of the Indiana Landmarks Southern Regional Office, said that four of the five homes that will be relocated have lots secured to move them. The home remaining was the house at 116 Fort St.
Two lots remained where the home could be placed inside the historic district, and an attempt a month earlier to locate the home at one site, with a variance, was denied by the Board of Zoning Appeals.
A variance is requested when a property or home does not meet the current zoning standards and must get a special approval to build or locate in the manner requested. The variance sought Tuesday was to allow the home to be a total of 1 foot — about six inches on each side of the home — closer to its neighboring structures that what is normally allowed through zoning.
“I know there’s concerns that have been raised about the impact it would have to the neighborhood, and I think certainly INDOT could say we have zero desire to be a negative impact on any neighborhood,” said Kevin Hetrick, design director and deputy project manager with INDOT.
He added that an occupancy covenant was also part of the purchase agreement for whomever buys the home. It requires they be the owner-occupant for a minimum of five years.
In addition, Scott Adams, director of real estate for INDOT, said by adding the home to the lot it would put the property value at $87,000. He noted that the other properties on the same black ranged from $56,300 to $88,700. INDOT officials said the values came from the Clark County Auditor’s office.
“In essence, the insertion of this property into the block raises the overall average of the homes in that stretch of the block,” Adams said. “We didn’t ask to move these houses, much like we didn’t ask to build a tunnel under a piece of property in the east end of Louisville either, but it’s part of the project.”
He added the variance was sought as a last resort.
A number of residents opposed the relocation of the home to their block, claiming it would be a public-safety hazard and a blight on the neighbors.
“Asking us, in our community, to do less than the minimum required by code harms public safety,” said Mark Boyd, a Maple Street resident. “This house will sit empty for some period of time. We’re aware of the five-year covenant stipulation, but it provides no comfort. Five years passes fairly quickly. After that five years, what happens?” he asked.
He called the covenants that will be part of the contract to sell the homes “paper tigers” and they would not offer the guarantees to the community.
“We are aware that some feel this would be a great loss to the community,” Boyd said of the homes slated to be moved to avoid destruction. “We, the community, do not.”
Board of Zoning Appeals Member Rita Fleming said she respected the neighbors’ opinions about not wanting the home to be located on the lot, but also warned them about what could locate on-site.
“Be careful what you wish for because someone could put something very unattractive and very out-of-character with the neighborhood that would further destroy your property values,” she said.
Planning and Zoning Director Shane Corbin told the board before the vote that the office staff, while it did not conduct an official survey, measured the distances between the homes in the neighborhood. The distance between the homes averaged between 5 and 10 feet. The home that would be placed on the lot would be 9 feet away on one side of the home and 10 feet on the other side from its respective neighbors. He added that while the variance requested last month was rejected, a similar variance requested last year to help relocate the Reuben Wells house was approved.
In order to approve a variance, a majority of the board must approve the request on all of three criteria: that the variance will not be injurious to the public safety; the use and value of the adjacent property will not be affected by approving the variance; and granting the terms of the variance would result in a practical difficulty. The votes were 1-4, with Flemming, Mary Pat Boone, Josh Rodriquez and Marty Chalfant voting against; 1-4, with Boone, Flemming, Chalfant and Rodriquez voting against; and 2-3, with Boone, Chalfant and Rodriquez voting against. The remaining board member is Mike McCutcheon.
Following the vote, Hetrick said INDOT may have to look outside the historic district to relocate the home.
“I think we’re done with the historic district,” he said. “I think we’ve exhausted the options with the historic district. There is a general understanding of the fact that we’ve [made] the effort to find places [to relocate the homes].”
Sekula — who had been seeking to add another three homes to the relocation list as part of the settlement — said that effort is unlikely.
“At this point, it does not look favorable that we’re going to be able to move those structures,” he said.
The additional homes he identified were the Prentice houses located at 340 W. Maple St. and 338 Ohio Ave., and another home at 113 Fort St.