Manassas prides itself on a sense of place and historic roots, so it comes as little surprise that for two decades city leaders have sought to save a 100-year-old house that once stood as a proud testament to a bygone time but has since withered and decayed.
Mayor Harry “Hal” Parrish II knows 9300 Prescott Ave. well, and it was up to him Monday to break a 3-3 tie on a measure that would give the home’s owner a small window of time to fix up the property or it would face demolition.
Parrish cast a “yes” vote, saying he was voting for action over compromise and a decision over city leaders’ persistent waffling. His decision means property owner Dorothy Feaganes has 30 days to save a wide, distinctive, but crumbling porch, and 90 days to make repairs on the house itself.
The real possibility of demolition surprised neighbors who have for years fought for the house even as they decried a property owner they fault for failing to take care of a city gem.
“It is complicated, it is difficult and it is frankly not one that I’ve asked for,” Parrish said of the decision before announcing his vote. In 2007, then-council member Parrish voted to allocate money to shore up the property before reversing his vote weeks later. His vote change resulted in a 3-3 tie and the measure ultimately failed.
“It seems no matter what we hope for, we cannot rely on hope as a decision. It’s time for the owner to step up and do the right thing.”
He quickly added: “My hope is it doesn’t get to demolition.”
Councilmember Mark Wolfe (R), who put forward the 30 day/90 day measure, has said that without clear sign of “substantial” work, the city should demolish a property that was once a city prize but has since been neglected to the point where officials say it could soon be a safety hazard beyond repair.
Council members Marc T. Aveni (R) and Jonathan L. Way (R) also voted for that option, while Council members Sheryl L. Bass, Andrew L. ”Andy” Harrover (R) and J. Steven Randolph (I) voted against the 30 day/90 day measure. Some council members hoped to spend $88,000 to “mothball” or shore up the property to make sure it didn’t collapse, but that measure was never voted on.
Feaganes, who is in her 80s and attended the meeting with her daughter Terry, used a walker to enter the council’s chambers. Dorothy Feaganes declined to comment after the meeting, but has said that she would never sell the property because it has been in her family a long time and she hoped to live there again. Terry Feaganes told City Council she would use retirement savings to begin repairs.
Parrish said that Dorothy Feaganes declined to meet with him as he deliberated over the issue.
He read a long string of court orders, letters, liens and City Council decisions that date to 1996 asking Feaganes to fix up 9300 Prescott, which sat at the entrance to Old Town before the ubiquitous commercial strip of Route 28 greeted visitors.
For Parrish, the issue seemed to be at a tipping point. City officials have condemned the house and no one has lived there for years. The porch has been declared unsafe and the city’s building inspector says it should be demolished for safety reasons.
He said that had he voted against the 30 day/90 day plan, the three council members who wanted the city to spend $88,000 to shore up the house would have put forward that measure. He said the vote would have been 3-3, and because the mayor only can cast a tie-breaking vote in non-budget matters, it would have left city leaders back where they started.
City residents at the meeting were divided over preserving a key city historic home and spending taxpayer dollars on private property. “I don’t believe that government bailouts are necessary for anyone,” said Jennifer Basinger, a city resident.
Neighbors, though, told Parrish it was his duty to save the house. “Without the past, it’s like you don’t have a compass, you don’t have a road map,” said Mickey Tamer, who lives nearby. “Without our historic homes. . .we’re kind of a milquetoast town.”
The city’s Architectural Review Board, which generally fights to save historic structures, took the uncommon step of endorsing the option that could end in the house’s demolition.
J. Tom Waters, the board’s vice-chairman, said the ARB and the city had simply spent too much time without showing any progress.
“Take decisive action on the fate of the house by voting to give the owners only 90 more days. . .if not, demolish it,” Waters said in prepared remarks to City Council. “Maybe they will get the message. History says they will not.”