Dr. George Fish has waited a decade for the City of Fredericksburg to redevelop its property at 1210 Sophia St. for the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.
During that time, the vacant house on the site has fallen into disrepair, become an eyesore and a potential fire hazard, said the radiologist, who lives at 102 Fauquier St. It’s located between Mary Washington Square townhouses and a vacant building the library owns at 1208 Sophia St.
“The city has let us down with their lack of care of the property,” Fish wrote in a letter presented at City Council’s meeting last week. “It’s ironic that we’ve cut down the trees at Chatham to have a view of the city that looks directly at those two [vacant] properties.”
Fish, who was unable to attend the meeting, was one of three people who complained about 1210 Sophia St. during the public comment portion of the meeting. It came prior to City Council’s unanimous vote to ask the Architectural Review Board for a Certificate of Appropriateness to either relocate the house or demolish it.
Sherry Dowdy, who lives on Fauquier Street, said that she’s had to call the police several times about homeless people at 1210 Sophia St., and the city finally put padlocks on the doors.
Former Councilwoman Bea Paolucci, who lives on Caroline Street, said she was disappointed that the city had let the building “fall through the cracks.” She said that she would circulate a petition in the Rising Sun Neighborhood to gain additional support for removing the house if the council voted to seek the Certificate of Appropriateness.
The city bought 1210 Sophia St. in 2006 for the Central Rappahannock Regional Library and the library contributed $50,000 toward its purchase. The plan, which got put on hold due to the recession, was to tear down the house at 1208 Sophia St. and remove or demolish the house at 1210 Sophia St. The library would then expand its parking lot to include 15 to 20 more spaces.
“That would help everyone in the community since library staff and customers are taking up spaces in the parking lot and the neighborhood,” library Director Martha Hutzel said in an interview. “It’s a huge problem. We see customers circle through the parking lot and they leave and don’t come back.”
She said that she hopes work on both properties could be done at the same time to save money.
The parking situation at the library will ease somewhat this spring when 15 people in the library’s administrative offices move to the library’s service center on Lafayette Boulevard, Hutzel said. Eventually, the library would like to add on to the back of the headquarters building.
“I would guess that would be five to 10 years down the road based on the library’s and the City’s budgets,” Hutzel said.
The library is seeking a Certificate of Appropriateness from the ARB to demolish the 1208 Sophia St. building. It had been a halfway home before it was donated to the library. Library staff used the space for storage, maintenance and the maintenance staff until about a year ago when it was vacated and locked.
“It’s really not a habitable building,” Hutzel said.
Both 1208 and 1210 Sophia St. are in Fredericksburg’s historic district, but only 1210 is deemed a contributing structure, Assistant City Manager Mark Whitley told the council Tuesday. He said the house is in fair condition, but has reached a point where the city would need to either renovate it demolish the building.
“We do recognize that it’s a bit abnormal and sensitive for the city to come forward with property we own in the historic district that’s contributing and ask that it be torn down,” he said. “But we do note that the property was bought in 2006 for the library and the library contributed $50,000 for that.”
City staff’s recommendation was to see if someone was interested in moving, renovating and reusing the building. It took a similar to the approach to removing old Prince Hall Lodge 61 at 609 Sophia St. to make way for Riverfront Park.
The lodge was eventually demolished because there were no takers. This time, the city will offer an incentive of up to $25,000 from its Blight Abatement Fund if certain conditions are met.
“We are committed to historic preservation,” Whitley said.
City staff briefed the ARB informally on its plans on June 27, but board members weren’t “completely receptive,” Whitley said.
Board member Kerri Barile said that she didn’t think the house would meet ARB’s criteria for demolition, according to minutes of the meeting. Other members said that it could be renovated as office space for the library or possibly as a home since it has a good view of the Rappahannock River.
“To be completely fair, they did not have the full application,” Whitley said.
City Councilman Matt Kelly said that he realizes the city can’t save every building and this one was purchased for a specific purpose. But he asked that an assessment of what’s left of the more than century-old house’s historic character be done and added to the ARB request.
“We’re the ones who are supposed to set the bar. We’re supposed to set the example of how we would like to see a project approached and done,” he said. “Let’s follow the steps that we’ve said we want everyone else to do for them to make a good decision on this.”
The ARB is expected to hold a public hearing on the City’s request at its Jan. 9 meeting at City Hall, 715 Princess Anne St.