The low hum of machinery echoed down East Fifth Street on Monday morning as a crew of local contractors and volunteers dismantled a dilapidated log cabin that has sat in disrepair for more than a decade.
Each salvageable window frame and door panel was photographed and set aside for preservation purposes. Workers cautiously stepped through the crumbling structure, wary of a rotting board giving way. A bucket truck lifted others toward the roof.
The work was slow-moving. For many, though, each log and shingle removed brought them one step closer to the long-awaited demolition of the log cabin at 107 E. Fifth St.
Ron Cramer, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Frederick County, which owns the property, called the work a relief.
“It’s Habitat’s Christmas gift to the Fifth Street community,” he said.
Tee Pecora, a member of the organization’s board of directors, agreed.
“It feels good. It feels really good,” he said.
The road to demolition
The financial burden and safety hazards posed by the 19th-century log cabin have weighed heavily on the nonprofit organization since it bought the property from the city in 2005. The property was deemed unsalvageable in multiple reports over the last 10 years, including an evaluation compiled by a private contractor a few months ago. Habitat sought to demolish the termite-ridden, crumbling remnants with the intent to sell the lot to a local builder.
Since the structure is in the Frederick Town Historic District, its demolition required approval of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
The commission granted permission for the demolition by a 6-1 vote over the summer. The road to approval wasn’t without challenges, though.
Habitat submitted its demolition application in October 2014, nearly 10 months before it got the HPC go-ahead. The two-part vote was drawn out over a series of public hearings with heated debate among property owners, local residents, commission members and city planners.
The commission ultimately voted to designate the cabin as a contributing resource to the historic district before approving its demolition in a second vote at a separate meeting.
The HPC approval was not the last hurdle to overcome, however. The commission tied its approval to a series of requirements for the demolition process, including documenting the structure for archival records, allowing a six-month archaeological survey period before the property can be sold or redeveloped. The commission also required that demolition be done by hand, without heavy equipment.
Cramer attributed the four-month span between the HPC approval and the beginning of demolition to the additional steps these requirements posed, as well as the demolition permits needed through the city planning department.
“We’re making sure we’re adhering to the right rules and regulations,” he said. “Just putting that all together was a process.”
A community effort
With those pieces in place, a group of eight people began the painstaking demolition process Monday. Many were wrapped in scarves and hats to protect against the cold as they started in on the roof shingles and back portions of the structure.
Among them were six workers from Anthony Owens Remodeling and Repair.
Owens described the demolition-by-hand work as “excruciating.” He quickly added that he was glad to offer help, however. He named Habitat as one of the best of the 18 nonprofit organizations his company has worked with.
Owens noted that his was not the only volunteer contribution to the effort. A few nearby property owners joined in to help with the demolition and documentation. Ron Hemby, owner of Hemby Custom Homes, who plans to buy the empty lot from Habitat, also lent a hand.
“Neighbors helping neighbors, that’s what this is,” Owens said. “That’s what Frederick is all about.”
Cramer said he was grateful to all of the volunteers who had come forward, particularly those with professional building experience. Although Habitat had a wealth of volunteers willing to pitch in, the unstable structure was a safety hazard.
“We needed skilled people out there at this point,” he said.
Even the professionals at work were using extreme caution. To avoid falling through the potentially unstable roof, they relied on the bucket truck. Those venturing inside to remove windows and doors proceeded carefully.
“It’s sort of the unknown,” Pecora said. “All you got to do is step through a rotten floorboard.”
Pecora said he hoped to complete demolition by the end of the week, weather permitting. When the structure is dismantled, the organization plans to hire an archaeological group or expert to conduct a property survey required by the HPC.
Pecora said he was discussing the work with the local firm R Christopher Goodwin & Associates, but nothing had been decided. Habitat and Hemby would share the cost of the survey work, which also had not been finalized as of Monday.
Once the study period ended, Hemby will buy the empty lot. A contract of sale has not yet been drafted, according to Cramer, but Hemby has agreed to pay $45,000 for the 5,760-square-foot property. The site, including the building, was valued at $116,367 as of July 1, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.
The money from the sale will go to Habitat’s homeownership program, which helps qualified residents buy a home with an interest-free mortgage, Cramer has said previously.
Hemby said preliminary plans have already been drafted for the two-story, three-bedroom building his company will construct on the site. The company has also started construction of three houses at 122, 124 and 126 E. Fifth St.
For the time being, though, Pecora said he plans to take things one step — and one log — at a time.