A century-old house that is among the best-preserved examples of Victorian architecture in La Plata, the Charles County seat, may be demolished to make way for an office building.

A Waldorf couple is hoping to instead relocate the Padgett-Posey house, so called after its first two occupants, who included La Plata's first mayor. But the couple fears a regulatory thicket may prevent the move.

The large, 2 1/2-story frame house, built around 1898, sits on land intended for the new headquarters of the Charles County Department of Social Services. The property is on Kent Avenue near the town's center.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the new headquarters is set for Nov. 2, and town officials last week granted a demolition permit for the Padgett-Posey house and two adjacent buildings, including a former Methodist church built shortly after 1890.

Waldorf real estate agent Reata Swanson, 52, says she is willing to move the house several hundred yards to a lot that is adjacent to other homes and is just up the street from the county courthouse. But the industrial zoning of the lot has raised obstacles that could derail Swanson's plan.

She and her husband, William, 53, would like to restore the house and live in it, Swanson said. She said they have a verbal agreement to buy the lot for a nominal fee from the developer of the social services building.

However, land-use regulations normally bar residences on industrial land, and Swanson needs the town's permission to place the house on the lot she has identified. She said she could not afford to move the home any farther.

Mayor William F. Eckman said town officials want to preserve the house. But, he said, officials' hands may be tied.

"She wants us to do all kinds of things you can't legally do," Eckman said.

Swanson said town officials could let her move the house under a provision that allows caretakers to live on industrial property.

That condition would persist only until the town conducts a broad rezoning planned for next year. At that time, Swanson said, she would apply to have the land rezoned to residential.

During the interim, Swanson said, the house would be largely unoccupied while it is outfitted with new wiring, heating and air conditioning.

"I don't believe it would be stretching the law or breaking the law to consider us to be caretakers," Swanson said.

Her proposal faces a Nov. 2 hearing before the town's planning commission, the same day as the scheduled groundbreaking, and a Nov. 9 hearing before the mayor and Town Council.

"We're trying to save a piece of La Plata history," Swanson said. "They say, 'We want to help you,' but then they won't stretch" regulations to accommodate the move.

Mayor Eckman said the town's attorney recommended against allowing the caretaker status.

"The town is very supportive of saving that building," Eckman said. "I don't see any legal way to do what she wants to do."

Swanson said she does not know how long she has before the house must make way for the new building.

The county headquarters, which will house roughly 200 office workers, is to be built by Berkshire Properties Inc., a firm based in Snow Hill, on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The Social Services Department expects to move in around New Year's of 2001.

Berkshire Properties owner Joseph Macomber was not available for comment Friday, according to his office.

Charles County's historic preservation officer, in a report, called the Padgett-Posey house "the best surviving example of late-Victorian . . . architecture in the town of La Plata. . . . The house remains in a remarkably original state."