Input Is Sought On Island Demolition Project

A Wheeling Island home ravaged by fire last year is beyond repair and needs to be demolished, according to city officials – but it’s not that simple because the building is located in a historic district.

So the city’s Economic and Community Development Department on Thursday sought assistance from the Wheeling Historic Landmarks Commission, which voted to write a letter to the State Historic Preservation Office essentially agreeing with the city that the building needs to come down.

That input, Community Development Specialist Gary Lange said, could carry some weight with the state office and help the city avoid some of the red tape involved.

The house, located at 452 N. Huron St., caught fire on the morning of Nov. 17. Six people were inside, including two adults and four children, but all escaped safely.

According to Lange, it would cost about $8,500 to demolish the house, compared to an estimated $200,000 to renovate it – but the owner cannot afford even the demolition cost, so the city wants to use federal Community Development Block Grant money to remove the structure.

The SHPO can’t prevent the building from being razed, Lange said, but because of the proposed use of federal money, it can require the city to sign a “memorandum of agreement.” Such agreements are intended to soften the negative impact of demolition in historic districts by ensuring detailed record keeping, but Lange said the building is a hazard to the public and needs to come down sooner rather than later.

Plywood covers the doors and windows on the first floor. Pieces of siding appear ready to fall to the ground, and some of the second floor and attic windows are gone completely.

A strand of yellow caution tape still hangs from the next door neighbor’s fence.

“I would hope that you would see that it is severely damaged and rehabilitation is unfeasible,” Lange told commissioners as he showed them photos taken both inside and outside the house.

Commissioners were not aware of any particular historic significance tied to the building and acknowledged its poor condition, but they initially expressed hesitation at setting a precedent seemingly in conflict with their mission of preservation. However, Commissioner Jeremy Morris said he believed it was the commission’s duty to offer input one way or the other.

“I’d say this is probably one of the worst ones that has come before us in the past eight years,” Morris said of the home’s condition.

“It’s a shame,” agreed Commissioner Victor Greco.

The commission ultimately voted 5-0 to draft a letter supporting the demolition, with Gregory Smith, Pat Cassidy, Rebecca Swords, Councilman David Miller and Morris in favor, Greco abstaining and C.J. Kaiser absent.