WINCHESTER — City officials have talked the talk and are ready to walk the walk.

Eighteen months after declaring a pair of residential properties on South Loudoun Street as derelict and blighted, and 12 months after suing the property owners to force them to make repairs, Winchester is making plans to tear down part or all of the structures.

The Winchester Board of Architectural Review on Thursday issued a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the rear portion of a single-family house at 411 S. Loudoun St. The decision came one month after the BAR issued a similar certificate authorizing the total demolition of a row of townhouses at 514-520 S. Loudoun St.

The BAR has oversight of all structures in Winchester’s downtown Historic District and had to approve the demolition requests because the structures are located within the district.

Both of the South Loudoun Street properties are owned by Wayne and Laura Gavis of the 1000 block of Greenwood Road in Frederick County. During Thursday’s meeting of the BAR, city officials said the Gavises have expressed no interest in repairing, occupying or selling the properties, so the city was forced to take action because the deteriorating, derelict buildings could be dangerous to people who walk in or around them.

City Manager Dan Hoffman indicated this may just be the beginning of Winchester’s efforts to remove buildings that have become inhabitable due to severe neglect by their owners.

“I can’t say which properties we will be pursuing next, but there will be more,” Hoffman said on Thursday.

It’s possible at least some of those properties will be owned by the Gavises. The lawsuit filed against them last December in Winchester Circuit Court seeks more than $20,000 in unpaid fines, fees and court-ordered judgments stemming from five of their properties that have become derelict and potentially dangerous. Those properties are the two at 411 and 514-520 S. Loudoun St., as well as 415-417 and 212-216 S. Loudoun St. and 414 S. Braddock St.

The lawsuit also asked Winchester Circuit Court Judge Alexander Iden to appoint the city as receiver of 411 and 514-520 S. Loudoun St., which would allow the local government to demolish or repair the structures before selling them. On July 6, Iden granted receivership to the city. The court now has to approve the city’s plans for demolition, which it could do during a hearing scheduled for Dec. 20.

State law requires the city’s action plan for the South Loudoun Street dwellings to have the least possible financial burden on taxpayers. However, in the case of the house at 411 S. Loudoun St., the partial demolition would cost substantially more than removing the building entirely. BAR members were told on Thursday that a full demolition of 411 S. Loudoun would cost $25,000, while a partial demolition that includes sealing off the front portion of the house would cost $320,000. City officials have not even suggested an overall renovation of the house because that would cost an estimated $640,000.

The BAR voted 3-0-1 to support the partial demolition. Members Don Packard Jr., Barton Chasler and Nicholas Robb voted in favor of the plan, and Stephanie Ryall abstained from the vote due to a possible conflict of interest. Board members Samar Jafri and Elizabeth Yo were absent.

Even though the city is moving forward with its demolition plans, both sites are still owned by the Gavises. The couple has the legal right to step in at any time to demolish the structures on their own or make the repairs required in order for the buildings to be up to code, as long as they agree to reimburse the city for any money it has spent to date addressing the problems. If they take no action, the lawsuit filed last December asks Iden to transfer ownership of the two properties to the city of Winchester.

If the demolitions and transfer of ownership are approved by the court, the townhouses would be razed and the sites would be reseeded. The front portion of the single-family home would remain intact but the back of the house would be torn down and the yard reseeded.

City Attorney Melissa Michelsen has said it’s possible Winchester will also seek receivership of the other three Gavis-owned properties mentioned in the lawsuit — 415-417 and 212-216 S. Loudoun St., and 414 S. Braddock St. — in order to tear down or repair the structures.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

(8) comments

Mark Gunderman

William Russell cites the location of John Mann's African American Methodist Church as being between Leicester and Cecil Streets, on the west side, south of the Catholic Church. Near this location the log cabin church stood from the 1830s through the 40s. A shell of the cabin still existed here in 1876, but was most likely removed by 1880 when 415-417 South Loudoun Street became a multi-family home. There could be a connection between the Lupton’s and John Mann. The Lupton’s were one of the most prominent Quaker families in Winchester, and were opposed to slavery. There is a lot of archival material about this family that might be worth examining. They very well may have provided John Mann a lot for his church or Mann could have bought the lot himself. Later, in 1868, land was purchased for a new Catholic church and built in 1870 (now Eagle Heights Presbyterian), on South Loudoun Street.

William Greenway Russell (1800-1891) published his recollections, “What I know about Winchester,” in the Winchester News in 1876. The 1953 publication of the “Russell Notes” in book form by Garland Quarles and Lewis Barton included pertinent foot notes. Russell cites that on South Loudoun Street stood the shell of a log building some twenty-five feet square, used by the [African] people of town as a meeting house and presided over by old John Mann (p.50). Mann apparently admonished male members of the congregation for using chewing tobacco inside the house of the Lord. Could this be the land on South Loudoun Street that John Mann presumably donated vice the parcel on Cork Street? This meeting house (church) most likely was being used as early as 1833 as cited by Thomas Cartmell.

Mark Gunderman

Could the house at 411 South Loudoun Street that the city is planning to demolish, possibly be the site of the log cabin Methodist church where Rev. John Mann preached in the 1830s - 40s? Sandra Bosley, executive director, Preservation of Historic Winchester, has done some research on a chain of title on 415-419 South Loudoun Street attempting to prove John Mann or his family may have owned that South Loudoun Street parcel which would be the location of the first log cabin African American Methodist church in Winchester and perhaps the oldest of its kind in the Shenandoah Valley.

Mann used to preach? I wonder if anyone researched the deed?

CRT

Are the owners suffering from mental issues? Why would they not just sell this valuable property?

WINCBEST

Let us see what the Local Government and Council comes up with to build there?

I am sure that is part of what is all about? It will be a good guess that it is nothing

our residents would want but will be put there anyway.

StellaBob

If you read the article.... you'd know the city is removing the blight, not building anything on the land.

WINCBEST

This family has fought the city for a while on properties and probably the cities fines and court costs has depleted his monies.and lost a beartiful home becase of it.

Let us talk about someothers property that has been a eye sore and bad memories for the home on the corner on Kent and Fairfax lane? Why has it set there so long all burned out and nothing done?

Chupacabra

Those could be beautiful homes for someone. It's a shame the owners were allowed to let them deteriorate so badly before they needed to be demolished.

TheOneAndOnlyNuri

If you were local, you would know why they used to be rented.

Welcome to the discussion.

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