A grand, more than 100-year-old house on Prescott Avenue in Manassas has vexed the City Council for the better part of two decades.
Last week, it continued to do so.
Manassas City Council members were tied 3 to 3 in a bid Monday, led by council member Mark Wolfe (R), to give the property’s owners 30 days to save the porch and 90 days to make repairs on the house at 9300 Prescott Ave.
And now, Mayor Harry “Hal” Parrish II (R) will be the one to break that tie. Parrish, who said in an interview that he’s “put a great deal of thought to this over many years,” said he would announce his decision at the City Council meeting Feb. 27.
Parrish is all too familiar with the issue. In 2007, Parrish, then a member of the City Council, voted to make $94,000 worth of repairs to the house. Two weeks later, he reversed his vote. He has said that he did so because he had become unconvinced that the city could recoup the money.
If the house weren’t such a grand structure, greeting visitors and residents entering Old Town Manassas, the decision about whether the council should demolish or spend taxpayer money to save it — if only for the time being — would be an easier one.
These days, the porch is in such disrepair that, an official said, it was the city’s “ethical responsibility” to demolish the house. The chimney appears about to fall down, and water is seeping through attic windows.
Without a clear sign of “substantial” work, Wolfe said, the city should demolish the property, once the prize of the city but now neglected to the point where, officials say, it could become a safety hazard. Council member Sheryl L. Bass also voted for that option.
Council members Andrew L. Harrover (R), Jonathan L. Way (R) and J. Steven Randolph (I) voted against giving the owners more time. They prefer that the city “mothball” the structure and spend $88,000 to make repairs and stabilize it. Under that option, the city would replace the roof, paint leaking sides and weatherize the outside, among other repairs, to save it.
“We lose one of these two houses every two years, and we’re not building any new ones,” Harrover said.
In a 2007 article in The Washington Post, Parrish called on the owners “to fix it or consider putting it up for sale.” Parrish’s vote also put the council in a 3 to 3 tie. Mayor Douglas L. Waldron broke the tie, voting against allocating the funds.
In an interview, Parrish said that he is still not inclined to spend public money on the private property. But, he said, the decision in front of him is not whether to spend money. Rather, it is an up-or-down vote on whether the city should move forward with the so-called “30 day/90 day” option.
“I would love to see the owners do something with the house and protect it. I would love to see them put it in the hands of someone . . . who would care for it and live in it,” Parrish said.
Hugh Ickrath, who lives nearby and has rallied neighbors over the years to save the house, said the decision to demolish it if no work has been completed “caught us all off guard.”
He said he hopes the bank forecloses on the house, so it could be bought by neighbors or a willing buyer who would fix the place up.
“I’m fully prepared to be a part of a group that would buy it,” Ickrath said.
Although he has long advocated for the city to spend the money to preserve the house, Ickrath said, he knows that option doesn’t have the votes on the City Council. So he and other neighbors hope Parrish votes against the 30 day/90 day option.
Ickrath also is advocating a “compromise” option: Demolish the porch and keep the rest of the house standing.
Terry Feaganes, daughter of property owner Dorothy Feaganes, said that from 1989 to 2005, the family fought bitterly over the house, before her mother was given ownership. During that time, she said, it fell into disrepair.
Feaganes said that if given the chance by Parrish, she would try to raise money to make repairs. “I hope so, yes. I want to do something,” she said.
Dorothy Feaganes said in an earlier interview that the family has fallen on hard times and hasn’t been able to raise funds but would love the community’s help. Still, she doesn’t want to sell.
“Some people don’t have sentimental value for anything,” said Feaganes, who is in her 80s. She said that she hopes to live in the house again one day.
The wide, distinctive porch, however, might not survive, no matter what happens with Parrish’s vote. City building inspectors have said it’s a safety hazard and should be demolished.