Madison’s City Council upheld on Tuesday a ruling by the Landmarks Commission that found the owner of a historic property on Langdon Street is letting it deteriorate by not making necessary improvements.
The city has been urging property owner Harold Langhammer to address problems at the Suhr House, 121 Langdon St., since November 2016, when the Building Inspection Division issued its first citation. After two years of noncompliance, the division alerted the Landmarks Commission that demolition by neglect was occurring at the property.
This is the first time the city has issued a ruling of demolition by neglect. Ald. Patrick Heck, District 2, said the city is in “uncharted territory.”
“What I hope happens is it gives the city additional leverage and that they can come up with a new plan and establish a new timeline for when the site work that is unfinished will be completed,” Heck said.
Demolition by neglect is the process of allowing landmarks, landmark sites or improvements in historic districts to decay, deteriorate, become structurally defective or fall into disrepair in any other way, according to the city's Historic Preservation Ordinance. The finding is meant to motivate property owners to repair and maintain historic properties.
The Landmarks Commission issued its ruling June 24, which Langhammer appealed July 3. On Aug. 6, the City Council referred the decision back to the Landmarks Commission for reconsideration with the instructions to rescind their finding of demolition by neglect if the property is in full compliance.
On Nov. 11, the city’s zoning inspector found that “site work remained substantially incomplete,” according to a report prepared by Preservation Planner Heather Bailey.
Outstanding work included incomplete landscaping, debris covering the rear parking lots, unpainted parking stalls, no curb stops, out of compliance ADA parking sign and parked cars in the front yard.
Under the Historic Preservation Ordinance, the building inspector could proceed to repair a landmark, and the property owner would be responsible for the costs or as a special charge against the property. The City Council could also authorize the city to acquire the property through condemnation proceedings.
"We hope that doesn't happen," Heck said.
The Suhr House was designated as a landmark in 1974 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. It was designed by prominent local architect John Nader.
John Suhr, a German immigrant who moved to Madison with his wife Louisa, built the house in the French Victorian Style. Suhr worked for a Madison bank until 1871 when he established his own “German-American Bank” to serve many of the German immigrants in the area.
The Suhr family once entertained President Grover Cleveland at the residence.