Just a wall separates Harry McLaughlin’s renovated town house from the blighted property next door.
Last year, water leaked through the other property’s corroded roof and dripped into McLaughlin’s second-story hallway and bedroom, damaging the drywall.
After spending at least $120,000 to renovate his downtown Frederick house, McLaughlin said he can’t do much about his neighbor.
His neighbor is now the city of Frederick.
After about 13 years of court battles with the previous owner of 20 W. Fourth St., the city has ownership of the house.
The previous owner, who let the property fall into disrepair, insists the house still belongs to him, and the court battle continues. But Mayor Randy McClement isn’t going to wait for the litigation to be over to start working on the property to make it safe and secure, said his executive assistant, Nikki Bamonti.
The Historic Preservation Commission voted 5 to 2 Thursday to allow the city to demolish the two-story brick rear wing of the house. The majority of the commission said that, because that wing of the house is so deteriorated, its historic integrity has been compromised.
The second floor of the rear wing is collapsing, with a large crack splitting bricks in half. Photos taken by the city showing the inside reveal that the floors and ceiling are collapsed or collapsing. An engineer has determined that this portion of the building is unsafe.
The city will soon put out a cost estimate request, asking contractors how much it would cost to demolish the rear third of the structure to the interior wall, stabilize the remaining building, secure all windows and doors, make the building and foundation watertight, repair the roof and damaged brick adjacent to McLaughlin’s property, and grade around the foundation. The city put out a similar request in October, but it didn’t get any responses, Bamonti said.
“Basically we just want to prevent an uncontrolled collapse of the rear of the building,” Bamonti said.
The city does not have a timeline for when the project will start, Bamonti said. In the meantime, the city has covered the roof with a tarp, which McLaughlin said has stopped water from leaking into his property.
McClement has said in the past the city would consider selling the property to someone else to rebuild.
Some don’t agree with the way the city is moving forward, including McLaughlin, who has been talking to the city about the property for more than a decade.
He said he hears from interested buyers.
Two members of the historic commission also thought that the rear of the building should stay.
There should be a plan to replace the wing to the commission’s standards, as it was an original portion of the building, which was built about 1900, said Carrie Albee, a member of the commission.
Richard Winters, an attorney for the previous owner of the house, Allan
Pickett, told the commission Thursday not to allow the demolition.
Pickett has filed an appeal of the court judgment that gave the city ownership of the building. A date for an appeals hearing has not been set. If Pickett wins his fight for ownership of the house, and the city has demolished a portion of the house, Winters said, Pickett could claim illegal damage and tampering to the property.
After watching the battle for the last decade, McLaughlin said he is not encouraged by the city’s recent steps.
The city seems to move faster on problems south of Third Street, he said, and everything north of that takes longer.
“Just look at Carmack-Jay’s,” he said, referring to the long-vacant former supermarket property on North Market Street just south of Fourth Street. “It’s gone to hell.”
He is considering selling his property, despite how much he likes living there.
“It’s just the hassle with the city,” he said.
Follow Jen Fifield on Twitter: @JenAFifield.