Clock is ticking on Carter House demolition

Published 7:54 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Washington City Council made waves Monday night when a 3-2 vote started the clock ticking on the demolition of a home in the historic district.

The West Second Street home, built by Henry Clay Carter III and his wife Marjorie in 1930, abuts the Brown Library parking lot. The city purchased the home for $80,000 in 2015, and now is seeking its removal to make room for library expansion and more parking.

Historic preservationists say the house should be saved and turned out in force to a January meeting to ask the council to preserve the house. Washington City Manager Bobby Roberson said the city would be happy if an outside agency would be willing to take it off the city’s hands.

“If (preservationists) want to go to any nonprofit group that would be interested in moving the house, we’d be more than happy,” Roberson said.

Many with a vested interest in historic preservation are concerned about the facts that discussion of the house was not included on the city’s agenda for the meeting, was not added during the meeting, that the demolition was discussed during closed session and a vote was taken immediately after council came out of closed session. The vote essentially starts a 12-month countdown to demolition, according to Roberson.

Rebecca Clark, who is on the board of the Washington Area Historic Foundation, said her group wasn’t told about the coming vote, though they had asked to be informed when it would be addressed again.

“We have called several times to ask when this would be on the agenda,” Clark said.

Roberson said the Carter House was discussed in closed session due to attorney-client privilege should the case later go before the board of adjustment. However, one city official said afterward that city actions on the house were not appropriate for discussion in closed session and should have taken place in the public arena.

“We are all entitled to an open government, and we were not served that last night,” said Dee Congleton, a WAHF board member.

“I disagree with (the council’s) decision, firstly, but I think even more importantly, it’s not a good way to govern, to not hold a public meeting about this,” said Century 21 realtor and downtown resident Scott Campbell.

Emily Rebert, the city’s community development planner, whose role with the city is to promote the downtown historic district and economic development, and has advocated for preserving the Carter House, was out of town for Monday’s meeting. Rebert said she was unaware the house would be a topic of discussion at the meeting, nor that there would be a vote to forward the process of demolition.

Councilmembers Larry Beeman, Richard Brooks and Doug Mercer voted for the measure; William Pitt and Virginia Finnerty voted against. Finnerty said when she voted to buy the property in 2015, it was with the understanding that it would be used, not torn down.

“I would never have voted to pay $80,000 for a house to tear it down,” Finnerty said. “That just doesn’t make sense.”

There is a growing concern among those seeking to preserve the town’s historic structures that the city is going to jeopardize its historic district through demolition.

“You cannot promote yourself as a historic town, then tear down properties,” Clark said.

“It’s a property that’s owned by the city, which means it’s owned by all of us,” Campbell said, adding that it seems like when the city buys a property, older structures are torn down to make way for parking lots, further eroding Washington’s historic district.

“The city is not being a good steward of the city. We’re a historic town because of our historic structures,” Campbell said. “It’s one thing if a private person does it, but the city works for all of us. And so far all they’ve represented is the macadam layers.”