Demolition approved, can’t happen for a year

Published 11:54 am Thursday, February 8, 2018

The clock is running on the possible demolition of four structures in downtown Washington.

During its meeting Tuesday, the Washington Historic Preservation Commission approved certificates of appropriateness for Greenville-based BBL Ventures to demolish the Johns Havens Moss mill, the mill manager’s office, the Phillip Aaron house, and the former Winfield Texaco service station. However, the commission delayed demolition for 365 days. The commission chose not to make the demolitions effective immediately.

The commission faced an impending closure of a 90-day window for it to act on the requests. If those 90 days passed without commission action, the demolition requests would be automatically approved — without the 365-day delay on demolition imposed.

By delaying demolition, the commission leaves the door open for BBL Ventures to find ways to preserve the structures. BBL Ventures, although it filed the demolition requests late last year, would prefer something be done to preserve the structures, including, but not limited to, finding new uses for them and/or relocating them.

Travis Stephenson, a Chocowinity resident, represented BBL Ventures at the board’s December meeting, but he did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. No one spoke either for or against issuing the COAs.

On Wednesday, Stephenson said the commission’s decision gives BBL Ventures “flexibility” when it comes to doing something with the structures. Demolition would be a “last resort,” he said.

“I knew they had two choices. I was hoping they would do what they did, which was to delay for the period of time that they could. … The smart thing to do was start the clocking ticking. … Our plan is to do what we did with Havens Wharf — spend money on the structure, rehabilitate the structure, make sure it’s in better shape and do the things we have to do to ensure that it’s there forever,” Stephenson said. “There are no plans to tear down any buildings.”

At the December meeting, Stephenson said he would prefer the commission grant the requests for demolition but invoke the 365-day delay provision to give BBL Ventures time to “pursue any and all options that make sense” regarding the fate of the structures.

“It was the flexibility … that the property, the owners and the city needed to be put in place to start developing a new plan for the mill,” Stephenson said.

That flexibility could include separating the four structures into separate projects that likely would be more manageable, he said. “That’s what this would allow us to do, to look at the building individually, if we can get state approval to do that, parcel it up so some things could start happening, which has not happened to date,” Stephenson said.

After BBL Ventures’ requests for the COAs became public, several people made known their opposition to the requests by speaking at commission meetings and using media outlets to voice their concerns about what demolishing the structures would do to the city’s history and the downtown skyline.

During the December meeting, Stephenson said if the commission approved the demolition requests but delayed demolition by 365 days, BBL Ventures would use that time to develop a strategy that addresses reuse of the structures and/or their relocation, if possible, “instead of watching them fall.”



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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