Thursday, June 19, 2014 —
A historic house in downtown Albemarle may face demolition if a buyer is not found soon.
The 1920s craftsmen-style structure, also known as the Copple House, is at 221 N. 3rd St. and owned by First Baptist Church of Albemarle.
First Baptist came before the Albemarle Historic Resources Commission last August to request a Certificate of Appropriateness to tear down the structure which is too costly for them to renovate.
As part of the local historic district, the commission delayed granting the certificate for a year and requested the church use that time to explore other options or seek a purchaser for the house.
In less than two months that time will be up and the house remains unpurchased.
“It’s too bad because this could represent a great opportunity for someone,” Planning and Community Development Director Keith Wolf said.
Since the church wants to keep the property but not the structure, church representatives indicated they are willing to strike a deal with anyone who will pay to move it, he said.
While this may seem complicated, moving the house may be the best option for the historic building.
A civil engineer told the church that the most serious problem with the structure is a lack of footings under the foundation, which is causing the foundation to roll out.
The total cost of renovation would be approximately $225,000, church representatives told the Historic Resources Commission, a sum that they are not in a position to spend on the house.
However, if the structure were moved it could be placed on a new foundation.
While there would still be other problems to fix with the structure, the cost of moving it may still be less than a full renovation at the current site.
Prices for house moving projects currently range from $16,000 to $35,000 on the website for North Carolina-based business Cox House Moving Company.
“The less distance you have to move a building the less it costs,” Wolf said.
“A local move would cost the least.”
But the last time he talked with the church, no one had put in an offer.
No nonprofit has shown an interest in moving the structure either.
“If [the Copple House] gets torn down, it’ll be a great loss,” said Vicki Coggins, a former Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation director who has been watching the situation closely.
Other historical buildings such as the old courthouse, the Central Hotel and several early Albemarle residences have already been torn down, she pointed out.
“We’re losing our history,” Coggins said.
“We’ve taken such a cavalier attitude toward those old structures and now many of them are gone.”
John Williams, chairman of the Historical Resources Commission, agrees.
“It’s going to create another hole in the downtown, another stair leading to nowhere,” Williams said.
Williams got frustrated enough with the situation a few weeks ago that he went around downtown taking pictures of stairways that now lead to lots left empty by demolition.
“It’s especially frustrating because something can be done about it,” Williams said.
Several houses have been successfully moved in the downtown area in the past, he pointed out.
Perhaps, the Copple House could even be moved to one of those empty demolition lots, he suggested.
However, in his opinion, First Baptist has not put its full effort into finding someone, or somewhere, to move the house.
“I don’t think anyone even knows the house is available,” Williams said.
The church has not placed a sign on the property to notify people that the house is for sale.
No advertisements have been placed with the SNAP.
No listing for the house can be found on top commercial websites for historic properties.
While First Baptist did contact Preservation N.C. about listing the building through its venues, regional director Ted Alexander said he has not heard from the church in several months.
Cost for Preservation N.C.’s services are advertised at $165 a year.
“You’ve got to let people know about the house to save the house,” Williams said.
“As far as I can tell, they’ve done nothing to let people know about this.”
The seemingly lack of advertising sets a bad precedent for future demolition hearings as well, Williams added.
If the church is allowed to demolish a historic building with only minimal effort to advertise it, future historic property owners may come before the commission, make a demolition request, and then simply wait a year without trying to find a buyer, he said.
“It puts us in a tough situation,” Williams said.
He will be exploring what other options the commission has besides allowing demolition when the one year waiting period expires.
“I just don’t think they’ve upheld their end of the deal,” Williams said.
While current church leadership did not wish to make a comment at this time, former First Baptist pastor Roger Thomas said the church’s efforts to have the building moved started years ago.
“I can’t speak to what’s happened over the past year, but I know the church has been trying to find someone since I was there,” Thomas said.
“This is not a knee-jerk reaction. It’s been a lengthy, thoughtful process.”
Many in the congregation have fond memories of Sunday school class and other events in the Copple House, he said.
“But it’s just too expensive to fix up and it’s not really practical for anything in the future,” Thomas said.
During his last several years there, the church began looking for someone to take the building. Thomas said he talked to people who were interested.
“But nobody ever bit,” Thomas said.
“I don’t know if you can find anybody locally.”
The one year waiting period will end Aug. 17. The church will go before the Historic Resources Commission on the matter in August.
The church is also expected to submit site plans before demolition would be approved.
So far those plans have not been submitted, but last August the church officials told the Historic Resource Commission they intend to landscape the property and preserve the large trees located there.
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