City council takes action on decaying home
By Jennifer Buske,
Manassas resident Kittie Blakemore spent much of the 1930s roller-skating past 9300 Prescott Ave. and playing along the street with neighborhood friends.
Prescott Avenue, a gateway into Old Town, was lined with beautiful historic houses, Blakemore said, until recently, when the owners of 9300 Prescott Ave. abandoned their home. The property has become an eyesore recognized for its aging facade and crumbling porch instead of its original charm.
Blakemore, neighbors and historic preservationists have rallied together in the hopes that city officials will get the dilapidated building restored.
Their efforts might be paying off.
On Monday, the City Council approved a resolution that declares the house a safety hazard to the community and gives the owner 30 days to draft a plan to restore the home. If that doesn’t happen, City Council members must decide whether to invest taxpayer money to fix the property.
“I’d hate to see it fall down and become a pile of rubble,” Blakemore said. “It would be nice if it was restored and fixed up to what it looked like when I was growing up. It was such a beautiful home.”
The battle over 9300 Prescott Ave. has raged for more than a decade. City officials first approached the owners, the Feaganes family, in the 1990s. After several court proceedings, little was accomplished. In 2007, the council voted to invest $94,000 to fix the more than 100-year-old house but later reversed its decision.
On Tuesday, the city sent a letter to Dorothy Feaganes that said she is required to submit a plan within 30 days to City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes that addresses dozens of the house’s deficiencies. The plan must also include a timeline for when the work, estimated to cost from $100,000 to $200,000, would be complete.
“They have told us different things over the years, but that is over,” council member J. Steven Randolph (I) said. “The clock is ticking, and that house won’t stay the way it is for much longer.”
City officials said that recent changes in state law give localities more leverage when acquiring or repairing “blighted” properties. The resolution approved Monday sets the groundwork for the city to rehabilitate the home or acquire it through eminent domain if the owners don’t act.
Dorothy Feaganes declined to comment.
“I walk by that house every day with my dogs,” Manassas resident Steve Godwin said. “I moved to Manassas two years ago not because I wanted to get a carwash or a tattoo, but because of the town and its charm. Preservation of Old Town is a priority. It’s why people come here.”
Like Godwin, other residents have spoken before the City Council to ask that they restore and not demolish the house. Residents said that with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War expected to draw thousands to the city, it is important Manassas retains its historic, quaint feel.
“I’ve seen too many historic buildings torn down because developers wanted something new; historic homes are an important part of the ambiance and attraction of the City of Manassas,” said Ann Hempen, who owns Manassas Junction Bed and Breakfast on Prescott Avenue.
Residents said that they have held neighborhood meetings to brainstorm ways to save the home. Some residents said they know of people interested in buying the house, and others said they are exploring grants or different organizations that might take on the project.
City officials said that if the owner doesn’t want to sell and the City Council votes not to spend taxpayer money, the house would probably degrade to a point where housing officials will require that it be torn down.
“If the money is not there, I understand; but if it’s a matter of ‘I don’t want to spend money foolishly,’ I disagree with that,” Manassas resident Jane Jones said about the council spending tax dollars on the house. “If we believe we are a historic destination city, then we should be concerned with the Prescott property and bringing it up to snuff.”
Council members are split on whether they would invest taxpayer dollars into the home. Randolph, who voted previously to fund the project, said he doesn’t want to make a decision until he sees whether the owner acts. Others said they wouldn’t invest the money or were uncertain, depending on the cost.
“I want to save the house but I am not willing to spend tons and tons of tax dollars on it,” Vice Mayor Andrew L. Harrover (R) said. “If we can condemn it for a reasonable amount of money, and the house is going to last a while, that is a different story.”
Harrover said that despite what happens with the Prescott house, he wants the city to look at better ways of addressing historic properties in Manassas.
“Old houses are the DNA of our community and what people come to see,” he said. “We have to be more aggressive in safeguarding this properties while also being respective of people’s property rights.”