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County to bar 'verbal' demolition approval

March 09, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

Washington County will no longer give verbal OKs for demolitions, a practice that led to the razing of a 1770s-era building last week, the director of the Washington County permits and inspection department said Tuesday.

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Paul Prodonovich, county permits and inspection department director, did not comment during a meeting with the Washington County Commissioners and the secretary of the Washington County Historical Society on Tuesday, but he said later in a telephone interview that verbal authorizations for demolition would no longer be permitted.

A verbal authorization given by someone in his office last Monday resulted in the March 2 demolition of the 1770s-era log house at 19933 Mount Aetna Road.

"This was a comedy of errors that caused this to happen," Prodonovich said. "Everything that could go wrong did go wrong."

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Pat Schooley, secretary of the Washington County Historical Society, had asked during the meeting with the commissioners that the verbal authorizations be discontinued.

"Last week we had what the staff calls a snafu," Schooley said.

If the county does not punish the contractor or the home owner, Triad Properties, then it will encourage other such demolitions, Schooley said.

"These houses are our economic development tools, guys," she said.

"Any demolition permit request should go by the books," Commissioner John L. Schnebly said.

"We recognize a mistake was made. The county will revisit what is in place," Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

The demolished building near Black Rock Golf Course was the main house on a plantation called Fox Deceived, built by Conrad Hogmire. In 1776, Hogmire became one of the county's first commissioners.

Later in the day, the Hagerstown City Council heard a request to annex the 36-acre property on which the building stood.

If the annexation is approved, development company Churchey Group II, LLC, plans to build a community of four-unit rowhouses and duplexes on the site, said group member Jim Stone, who also is on Hagerstown's Planning Commission.

The finished development will have about 250 units. Each unit is expected to sell for between $150,000 and $180,000 according to early estimates, Stone said.

The City Council is expected to take final action on the annexation request at the end of April or soon thereafter.

The county's "Fast-Track" process that allowed the verbal demolition approval was not at fault for the building being razed, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said. It was Human error and a verbal misunderstanding with contractor Wes Churchey, owner of Jefferson Home Builders, Inc. and a member of the Churchey Group, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

A worker gave verbal authority to Churchey to proceed with demolition before the normal procedure of checking, through a computerized or a written list of historic properties, that the house was not historical, Shoop said.

Such fast-tracking of demolition permits has been permitted in certain cases, officials said last week.

Churchey told a permits department employee that the property was not historical, Prodonovich said. That employee thought Churchey was requesting demolition of an addition, not the entire house, Prodonovich said.

The Triad owners and Churchey have not returned phone calls during the last week.

Stone said the members of the Churchey Group II, LLC, "did not know (the house) was a designated historic property. It was unfortunate."

Preservationists believe at least one of the Triad Properties owners should have known it was a historical building. Triad Properties is owned by Richard Gruber, Charlie McClure and Don Ardinger.

Jane Hershey, a member of the Washington County Historical District Commission, told the commissioners that she had a phone conversation with Gruber late last year in which she mentioned the building's historical value.

And Schooley said that since Ardinger is a member of the Washington County Planning Commission he should have known it was a historical property.

Gruber and Ardinger have not returned phone calls left during the last week.

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