Lakewood Lady Ripped By City for Restoring Century Home

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Nina Smith and the City of Lakewood appeared to be a match made in heaven.

With its streets lined with century-old houses, the West Side suburb is all about encouraging folks to restore homes to their original charm. Smith, too, is all about restoring the 1914-model abode she bought in 2008 partly because of the city’s commitment to maintaining residential character.

But that was three years ago, and things change.

An IT specialist by day, Smith is also a member of the Lakewood Historical Society and the Cleveland Restoration Society, a graduate of many restoration workshops and seminars, and a Lakewood auxiliary police officer to boot. She’s not short on love for restoring her home. She’s just short on time, what with all the city inspections and court visits.

In April 2009, Smith set out on her quest to return the home to its original splendor. Taking her cues from suggestions prominently offered on Lakewood’s website, she single-handedly started tearing chalky sheets of 1970s aluminum off the house and restoring original cedar shaking on its front. That’s when the trouble started.

A neighbor complaint about the aluminum tearoff triggered a next-day inspection and a building department notation to “reinspect often.” And often they did — two days later, four days after that, again in eight days … and so on.

“It would be like being cited for not having a door on your house because you had just taken it off to replace it,” Smith says.

After two years of explaining to city officials how these things take time, then receiving an extension and doggedly working to strip old paint and repair and sand the wood underneath, Smith has been told she’s now out of time. She’s up for a fine or jail over the peeling paint.

Smith responds by brandishing a city-issued home improvement and maintenance guide clearly stating that Lakewood imposes no time limit for paint jobs. (The city, in turn, cites the actual ordinance stating that peeling paint must be fixed within a “reasonable” amount of time.)

“I think everyone involved in the process — the building inspector, the prosecutor, the judge — has bent over backwards to balance the need of the community with the need of the homeowner to take her time and do things to her standards,” says Lakewood Law Director Kevin Butler.

Smith’s neighbors, meanwhile, seem to be taking a somewhat more forgiving approach.
“For one person, I’d say she’s working at a pretty fast rate. I couldn’t even do it half as fast,” says Will Sawicki, who lives next door. “The way the house looked before — the style didn’t fit anywhere in any neighborhood.”

Smith’s blog, 1914foursquare.com, documents her restoration progress and struggles — and it’s starting to get national attention.

“We have had a lot of calls,” Butler admits.

Smith’s next court appearance is scheduled for October 19. Stay tuned.

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