Martinsburg City Council overturns historic district allowing church to demolish home

March 08, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Martinsburg City Council voted 5-1 Thursday to allow the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston to raze a pre-Civil War residence on West John Street in the city’s historic district.

The vote regarding the fate of a two-story home at 110 W. John St. overturned a decision by the city’s Historic Preservation Review Commission, which had voted unanimously to deny the church’s demolition request.

Ward 4 Councilman Roger Lewis voted to uphold the HPRC’s decision. Councilman At Large Gregg Wachtel did not vote because he was presiding over the City Council’s regular monthly meeting in Mayor George Karos’ absence.

The vote came after City Engineer Michael Covell told council members Thursday that the structure is in “pretty sound condition” and not a “pathological death trap.” 

Had the demolition request been denied, the church would have had to make repairs to comply with city code, officials concluded after inspecting the property recently. When questioned by At Large Councilman Rodney Woods, Covell said officials did not find any record indicating the church had been previously cited for any code violations.

The council’s vote was disappointing to Historic Preservation Review Commission Vice Chairman Keven Walker, who spoke passionately in favor of prohibiting demolition. He was critical of the church for failing to maintain the property. Another resident recalled telling a church leader about needed roof repairs about four years ago.

“That is demolition through neglect,” Walker said.

The council’s vote Thursday follows its decision in November to overturn another Historic Preservation Review Commission decision. The commission denied the church’s request to demolish the century-old John Street School at 120 W. John St.

Covell confirmed after the meeting that about five to seven votes by the HPRC have successfully been appealed and overturned by the council in the last 18 months or so.

“The Martinsburg City Council chose to vote in favor of protecting the financial interest of the Diocese of Wheeling and not the future of Martinsburg,” Walker said after the meeting in a prepared statement.

John L. Reardon, the diocese's director of buildings and properties, told council members Thursday night that the church would have to spend more than $100,000 to repair the structure.

A consultant hired by the church found the structure contained dangerous mold and Reardon indicated the uneven floors inside the building were indicative of structural problems.

Covell said the original dwelling was built with logs and that the rafters also are log. 

Lewis, who is a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church, said he made his decision based on what he felt was right. The church neighbors the John Street properties.

Ward 3 councilman Max Parkinson, who acknowledged he also is a member of the church, said he tries to do what’s best for city residents as a whole and indicated he would have made the same decision even if he wasn’t a member.

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