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Martinsburg sued over history

November 24, 1998|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - The City of Martinsburg is headed to court over its plans to bulldoze a dilapidated pawn shop taken over by pigeons.

Two men have filed a lawsuit in Berkeley Court Circuit Court to stop the city from razing the two-story Victorian-style building at 132 E. Race St. The lawsuit was filed by Martinsburg resident Robert Boege and Harpers Ferry contractor Christopher de Souza.

After spending $13,000 last spring to buy the building, the Martinsburg City Council overruled an October recommendation by the city's Historic Review Commission to keep the building and moved forward on plans to turn it into a parking lot.

According to the lawsuit, the Historic Review Commission determined the Race Street building was important to maintaining the architectural integrity of a historical district that includes the B&O Roundhouse site. The lawsuit contends the city will violate its own zoning ordinances if it goes through with the demolition plans.

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Boege, who plans to purchase a property neighboring the Race Street building early next year, said the City Council is ignoring the building's historical benefits.

"There are some people who feel anything old should be torn down," Boege said. "By that ideology, Martinsburg should be a parking lot."

Rather than see the Race Street building torn down, Boege and de Souza want the city to sell the circa-1900 building to de Souza for the original $13,000 purchase price and renovate it for commercial use.

De Souza said he thinks he could renovate the entire property within a year for about $35,000 to $50,000 over purchase price.

"I don't feel (city council members) have anything to lose," de Souza said. "Maybe they just got tired of dealing with it."

Boege and de Souza's lawsuit also contends the city's demolition plans would waste city funds and deprive the city of future tax revenue.

City Manager Mark Baldwin said it will cost the city about $7,000 to demolish the building.

Baldwin said the demolition plans are on hold until the lawsuit is resolved and said the council has given no indication it wants to sell the building to avoid the lawsuit. No hearing date has been set for the case.

Martinsburg City Councilman Richard Yauger said he voted to raze the building to put an end to what he called "back and forth" debate over its future.

Yauger, however, said he hated to spend taxpayer money on the demolition and indicated he would be willing to talk with de Souza about renovation plans.

"With the case in litigation, there's not a whole lot I can say," Yauger said.

City Councilman George Karos, the only council member to vote against the demolition plan, said renovating the building is a better deal for the city's taxpayers.

"It's better to have it on the tax roll where we can get money from it," Karos said.

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