The city’s last cobblestone house is safe from demolition for now, as the city plans to accept an offer from the property’s owner to donate it to the Rochester Land Bank Corporation.
The Lockwood-Alhart House is a nearly 200-year-old building attached to a small strip mall located at the corner of Grand Avenue and Culver Road.
Arthur Kirsch of Long Island bought the house in 2006, and in the years since the property has deteriorated. Its roof is crumbling, the doors are boarded up, and rats and pigeons have made it their home. Kirsch had said he planned to demolish the house, although he had not yet applied for a permit to do so.
After the Land Bank acquires the property, the city will solicit proposals to rehab the house, Mayor Malik Evans said. He gave no timeline for the process aside from saying the process should “move quickly.”
“As the Wolf said in ‘Pulp Fiction,’ ‘I solve problems,’” Evans said during a news conference held on the house’s freshly mowed yard. “And this is one of many problems that came across my desk.”
Councilmember Mitch Gruber said that the city has been concerned for some time about the state of the building and that “as soon as there was an opportunity for the administration to get involved and for Council to get involved, we moved quickly.”
But the plan to acquire the building did not seem to be under consideration by the city as recently as nine days ago.
Last week, WXXI News reported on the declining state of the Lockwood-Alhart House and the owner’s plan to demolish the house so the site could be used as a parking lot for the adjacent Dollar General. Kirsch outlined that plan in a July court filing he submitted in response to a city lawsuit against him that sought to compel him to address more than two-dozen code violations.
The revelation that the house could be razed sparked outrage among community members and led to a petition calling on the city and the owner to somehow save the property.
At the time, City Hall’s top lawyer, Linda Kingsley, said the city had no plans to acquire the property and that if Kirsch were to ask for a demolition order, officials would have no reason not to grant it.
Likewise, city Commissioner of Neighborhood and Development Dana Miller said the only reasonable, if unlikely, path forward for the house was for a wealthy benefactor to step in, purchase the house and renovate it.
But in an interview with Kirsch, he told WXXI that he was willing to donate it to the city. It was an option where he could wash his hands of the liability and get a tax write-off, while the city could take on the burden of restoring the building.
Kingsley, in an Aug. 22 interview, said this was not an option previously considered by city officials.
“First of all, we’re just hearing about this,” Kingsley said during that interview. “But we are generally not in the business of doing this kind of thing ourselves. This is the kind of thing a developer would engage in or a not-for-profit would engage in.”
Evans said the city and Kirsch started having conversations last week and said that city officials were “excited” when the donation became a possibility.
The cost of overhauling the building is unclear at this time.
Evans said the city is also seeking to have the property recognized as a historical landmark.