Ravenswood officials are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the lockmaster’s house at Washington’s Riverfront Park.
That was confirmed once again by two state officials who attended a recent city council meeting.
Jennifer Brennan is a structural historian and local government coordinator with the West Virginia Historic Preservation Office. Kevin Sneed is a national flood insurance manager with the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Both visited Ravenswood recently and attended a city council meeting, where they participated in a discussion with city officials about the future of the house.
The property has been a problem for years. The city has rekindled the discussion recently in hopes of finding a way to repair or renovate the structure, which is badly dilapidated. The porch, in particular, is in bad shape, Mayor Josh Miller said.
The building, which dates back to the early 1900s, is structurally unsafe. If repairs can’t be made in a fiscally responsible way, Miller said, maybe the city should consider demolition.
“We’re just a crossroads. It’s been neglected for so long,” he said.
Brennan wasn’t able to offer much help. Based on the deed, which involves a federal covenant, the federal government likely would not allow the city to demolish the structure.
“You’re in a very difficult place, and I understand that. But you’re not likely going to get the National Park Service or our office to let you demolish it,” Brennan said.
Grant money for repairs is available – especially if the building is put on the National Register of Historic Places – but the wheels of government turn slowly, Brennan said.
City officials were considering the possibility of turning the building into a residential structure – something it was used for in the past – so the money generated could help pay for upkeep. But that plan was thoroughly squashed by both Brennan and Sneed.
According to the deed, Brennan said, the structure cannot be used as residential housing.
Sneed added that in order to be permitted as residential housing under floodplain laws, the structure likely would have to elevated several feet. The building would also have to be raised if the city spent more than half its value on repairs, he said.
And if the city violated floodplain regulations it would not be eligible for federal grant money for the structure.
Elevating the structure would cost at least $100,000 dollars, Sneed said. That isn’t something the city could afford to do on its own, Miller said. While grant money is available, he said, it would take years to acquire.
Councilman Steve Tucker said it is unfortunate that the city’s options are so limited.
Brennan suggested that doing nothing was an option.
“It’s probably not a good option,” Tucker said.
Brennan suggested “mothballing” the structure until the city could afford to elevate it and complete the repairs.
Unfortunately, council members said, that does nothing to alleviate the immediate concern over safety.
Instead, the city is planning to write a letter to the National Parks Service to find out if they would allow the structure to be demolished. While that isn’t an ideal solution – and it likely won’t even be permitted, according to Brennan – the city has to explore all of its options.