Council modifies stand on house

Published 3:35 pm Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Washington’s City Council, with a 3-2 vote Monday night, took action that gives the deteriorating house at 312 Water St. a reprieve from the wrecking ball.

The house, condemned by the city months ago, and its future has been the subject of debate in recent months. A motion to demolish the house was included in the council’s agenda, but it never came to a vote.

As a result of the split vote, the city will proceed with imposing civil penalties against the owner of the house and removing the front porch from the house. The council’s action spares the house from demolition, at least for now.

Voting for the measure were council members Bobby Roberson, Larry Beeman and William Pitt. Voting against it were council members Doug Mercer and Richard Brooks.

The vote came after the council’s lengthy discussion about the house, which followed several speakers who asked the council not to proceed with plans to demolish the house. Several speakers said they would like to see someone buy the house from its present owner and restore it.

Among those speakers was Steve Rader, who lives near the house. Rader said several people are interested in buying the house, including members of his family. He said the house has historical significance.

Councilman Doug Mercer suggested those people approach William Henry, the out-of-state owner of the property, and make him an offer on the house. Rader indicated that would do no good because Henry has rejected such offers.

Other speakers asked the council to pursue options other than tearing down the structure. Demolishing the house would lessen the value of the city’s historic district they said.

The property was condemned under the city’s demolition-by-neglect ordinance.

Previously, the city hired St. Clair Trucking to demolish the structure. During the delay in demolition, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, as is its obligation, sought alternatives to the demolition process. Finding those alternatives included discussions with Preservation North Carolina, which is seeking buyer for the property and performing maintenance on the property and the State Historic Preservation Office.

Last fall, the Historic Preservation Commission recommended the City Council rescind its demolition order and either spend money (which would result in a lien on the property) to stabilize the house or immediately impose maximum demolition-by-neglect fines on Henry until he stabilizes the house. A petition with the names of people interested in having the demolition order rescinded was presented to the commission last fall.

In October 2013, the council accepted the commission’s recommendations and voted to pursue tax liens and penalties against the property.

The porch will be removed because it poses an immediate safety hazard. Several speakers said they have no problem with the porch being removed for that reason.


About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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