The city of Frederick is moving full speed ahead with efforts to restore a long-vacant, crumbling town house in downtown Frederick.
Mayor Randy McClement began the multi-step process to sell the city-owned property at 20 W. Fourth St. in March, less than a month after a decades-long legal battle over ownership rights to the house was resolved.
“This is the closest we’ve ever come to moving forward on this, and we’re moving as fast as we can,” McClement said in a city meeting on Monday.
The city first took over the tax certificate for the property in 2011, after multiple attempts to sell or condemn the blighted property were unsuccessful. Frederick County Circuit Court confirmed the end of former owner Allan Pickett’s right to redeem his property from foreclosure in 2012, but Pickett continued to challenge the decision in an ensuing series of appeals to higher courts.
The Maryland Court of Appeals in February denied Pickett’s request for appellate review, stopping his case from advancing any further.
Pickett has also challenged the city Historic Preservation Commission’s decision to allow demolition of the structurally unsound rear wing of the house. The latest appeal of that decision is still pending with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, but will have no impact on a potential sale, according to Assistant City Attorney Scott Waxter.
The city has not budgeted any money for the cost of demolition, though. McClement said he would prefer to sell the building and require the new owner to pay for the demolition.
What it’s worth
With city ownership of the dilapidated town house confirmed, the mayor initiated the process for sale. In March, the city hired Pugh Real Estate Group to appraise the property, one of several requirements under the policy for sale of city-owned property.
The appraisal report submitted on March 31, and shared with The Frederick News-Post on Wednesday, valued the two-story town house at $45,000.
That estimate was calculated by subtracting the cost of renovations from the market value.
If the property were renovated to current market standards, it could be sold for $230,000, the report stated, an estimate based on current market conditions, recent sales of similar properties and applicable city standards for zoning and historic preservation.
However, structural safety issues combined with outdated appliances, lack of basic plumbing, heating and cooling, and other necessities absent after 23 years of vacancy require $185,000 worth of renovations, according to the report. The most costly of these renovations are the $47,850 reconstruction of the rear wooden frame, plus $54,600 to renovate the rest of the building.
The demolition alone would cost $9,500, according to the report.
McClement said on Wednesday he was amazed by the appraisal. He did not elaborate if this reaction was positive or negative, though.
“I had no expectations,” he said of the appraisal value for the property.
The house was built in 1865, according to state property tax records. Pickett bought the property for $41,000 in 1982, and lived there for one week before renting it out, according to court records.
The city condemned the property in 1996 after Frederick police and officials found the building open and unsecured, filled with trash and feces. There was evidence of fires.
Savings versus safety
McClement named cost savings as his top priority when considering whether the city should sell the property and who should pay for the demolition.
“My intent is to try and move that property, to have it active and back on city tax rolls, with the least amount of city taxpayer dollars as possible,” he said.
In a budget hearing on Monday, several aldermen questioned if imminent safety concerns necessitated more immediate action.
Alderman Josh Bokee reiterated those concerns in comments on Wednesday.
“I want what is the fastest and most responsible way to demolish any part of the property that is at risk,” he said. “I don’t know if selling the property at market rate is going to be the most efficient way to do that.”
Bokee had not seen the appraisal report at the time.
His concerns come after several weeks of email messages between local residents, city employees and elected officials related to the safety of the rear wing. The News-Post was also copied on these messages.
Ned Bond, a county resident and vocal critic of city blight issues, initiated the discussion with an email sent March 9 in which he described structural issues with the entire house, not just the back wing.
“Although it is unlikely someone will be caught if it goes but how much of that building will go when it does?” Bond wrote.
Two complaints related to safety issues with the building have been submitted since then, according to the city code enforcement database. Both complaints, dated March 10 and April 5, are open and unresolved.
McClement maintained, however, that the building’s condition is no more dangerous now than it was when he became mayor. Even the January snowstorm or the gale-force winds of last weekend haven’t knocked it down, he said on Monday.
Zack Kershner, the city’s public works director, also confirmed on Monday that the city has shored up the rear wing with additional supports to prevent immediate collapse.
City policy outlines a multi-step process that must be taken before any city-owned property may be sold, including a decision from the mayor and aldermen that the city no longer needs the property, an appraisal and land survey for the property, and at least 60 days of advertising for sale. A selection team of city staff must review each offer and submit a recommendation to the mayor and aldermen for approval.
McClement said he was working with city employees to submit a recommended course of action based on results of the appraisal. As of Wednesday he did not know when that recommendation would be presented to the aldermen.
Meanwhile, the pending Court of Special Appeals case will likely take months to reach its end, Waxter said on Thursday. Although the court’s decision will not affect the sale from a legal perspective, the terms of the demolition approval may be relevant to a future owner, Waxter added.