A budding neighborhood group is boosting Middletown’s proposed historic district

As the next step in Middletown’s effort to create the Oakland Park Renaissance District, the city is creating a neighborhood association that will help drive the historic district project.

More than 20 residents and stakeholders met Thursday at St. John Church with eight city staff representatives and developers Dan Mayzum and Dan Barton. The group has been meeting in the church basement on the fourth Thursday of the month since last fall with attendance ranging from the mid 30s to more than 60, Barton said..

The five-phase project for the Oakland Renaissance Incentive District is designed to revitalize the entire neighborhood, attract new residents and expand the tax base.

Middletown City Council is slated to officially designate the neighborhood as a historic district at its Tuesday meeting. The historic district is approximately bounded on the north by First Avenue (both sides of the street); on the west by South Verity Parkway, which is the former Miami Erie Canal site; on the east by the Pioneer Cemetery property, Cohen Brothers Inc. property and the west side of Lamneck Street; and on the south by Calumet Avenue.

The developers and city officials are proposing new housing that could include new three-bedroom loft homes and three-to four-bedroom townhouses, condominiums and row-houses ranging from 1,500 to 2,400 square feet on the site of the former Middletown/Vail Middle School. It will also include the renovation of older homes in the neighborhood. After the new association is established officially with officers and policies, tax credits will eventually become available for property owners.

Barton, who has been moderating the Oakland Park neighborhood strategic planning and organizational meetings, said there were 940 parcels and 540 houses in the historic district. He and Mayzum had been working with Middletown officials on policies on how the incentives will be used in there.

He said there are 120 buildable lots possible on the site of the former middle school site, which was recently purchased by the city from the Middletown Board of Education.

The developers want to work with the neighborhood residents and stakeholders to encourage first-time homebuyers, encourage renters to become homeowners, and provide incentives for new construction with an eye to increase property valuation.

Barton said he would like to see First Avenue become an extension of Central Avenue’s development. During the meetings, subcommittees have been established to take closer looks at Helping Hands/membership, security, housing/zoning code, infrastructure improvement, marketing/fundraising, and social engagement.

At Thursday’s meeting, attendees sat at tables for each of those areas and discussed ideas and issues over pizza.

At the table for security, Officer Holly Owens received information about some parking, zoning and problem housing. She is the city’s Community Oriented Policing officer who works with code enforcement addressing issues throughout the city.

“It’s been a mix of old and new faces,” Mayzum said. “A groundswell has been building. People are seeing the city’s commitment and the word is spreading as neighbors are telling each other to come.”

Anna Dandrade has lived in the neighborhood for the past eight years and considered moving elsewhere before the focus on the neighborhood started. She is seeking to become the president of the neighborhood association, saying that she’s passionate and optimistic that this could happen.

“I’ve been to every meeting,” she said. “We’re hoping for new housing and the plans and layout are very appealing for everyone, families and couples. It feels very encouraging.”

A main challenge is convincing longtime residents the rehabilitation can work, Dandrade said.

“I believe it can happen,” she said. “People have to be passionate and want to live here.”

Ty Givens, who owns property in the Oakland neighborhood, said the meetings have been a great start for a 20-year plan and other neighborhoods in the city should do the same thing to “bring Middletown up to standard.”

“I think its a great place for people and police to connect and allow the community be more hands-on instead of things coming down from the city,” he said.

Ashley Combs, city planning director, said the city has submitted its application to the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office to become a Certified Local Government last week. The state is reviewing the application and expects to hear back in the next few weeks.

If the state gives its approval, the application is forwarded to the National Register for final review and approval. Once those reviews are approved, it will enable the city to assist property owners in obtaining funding for historic preservation projects.

“This is a great project and is very exciting for downtown revitalization,’ Combs said.

About the Author