By Matt de Simone
Fincastle Town Council introduced Jim Reynolds, its the newest member, during the October meeting last week at the Fincastle Volunteer Fire Department Training Room. Reynolds will complete the term of Richard Flora, who resigned from the position on July 14.
Council adopted a proposed preservation ordinance establishing a procedure to protect historic properties during last Thursday’s meeting. The ordinance will establish requirements prior to the issuance of a demolition permit by the town’s Planning Commission for any historic building within the Town of Fincastle built prior to 1900. Town planners worked over the last five months on coming up with a solution that will allow the town to “hold onto” its historic resources and avoid any negative impacts to the town’s economy, according to the comprehensive packet of information related to the ordinance provided by town planner Scott Critzer.
Town planners held a public hearing on the matter at their September 14 meeting. There was a concern that the original cutoff date of “100 years” would be too new as the old ordinance technically considered buildings built in 1923 and later. Critzer explained that following a discussion of several possible alternatives, a consensus decided to set a different cutoff date of 1900. After the September 14 meeting, the commission held a work session and agreed to change the cutoff date to “prior to 1900.”
According to the packet information, property rights in Virginia do not allow a locality to deny the right to demolish dwellings. However, the Code of Virginia allows a locality to adopt an ordinance that requires the owner of a designated historic dwelling to make the property available for sale at a fair market value before a demolition permit can be issued.
The packet goes onto explain that Fincastle is currently in the process of applying for a Community Development Block Grant with the focus of the grant relating to town’s economic enhancement. The proposed demolition ordinance is based of the belief that if the town “doesn’t have it, (the town) can’t preserve it.”
Councilman John Thomas asked about the types of architecture included with the ordinance. Mayor Mary Bess Smith explained that any type of structure built in 1900 and later are included. The town currently has a recent architectural survey that will help with future identification of the town’s historic properties.
Thomas asked about a scenario if a person didn’t want to sell the property where a historic structure was located. Smith explained that the property owner now has the option to sell off pieces of the old structure (dismantle the house) in order to build a new structure on the property.
New council member Jim Reynolds spoke about the log house on Main Street that was demolished earlier in the year. He explained that the home was “hundreds of years old” and fell into disrepair. If the proposed ordinance would have already been in place, the home owner “would have been better off to go through this process.” The house was eventually deconstructed and the logs were relocated and repurposed elsewhere.
Smith stated that the town “saw a desire to preserve the integrity of Fincastle… at least we get awareness out in the community that this (process) is available and if no one wants it, they may do with they want with it – demolish it.”
Critzer added that “this is a one-shot deal. If it (the property) doesn’t sell in the specified time and you still want to tear it down, you ask for the demolition permit, you get it, and you move on down the road.” He also stated that this isn’t going to be a regular occurrence, but it could come up. The preservation ordinance is another option that local homeowners may take.
Smith noted the “desire” of the Planning Commission that’s largely made up of residents who live in newer homes to preserve the town’s historical structures. She also reached out to homeowners who do live in structures considered to fall within the new ordinance who she said were “all in favor” of the proposed preservation of those structure.
“I’ve been on council for a long, long time… we’ve talked for years about what makes Fincastle ‘Fincastle,’” the mayor added. “It’s all about these places and these properties and now we have a place to do something and I think the time has come for us to do it.”
“I think we’ve worked hard on a comprehensive plan that says that we need to preserve our history in the town and I believe that this is a step towards doing that,” Council member Pam Binns said.
Town Council adopted the proposed ordinance with a vote of 5-1 with council member John Thomas voting no (Bill Gaul was not in attendance at the October meeting).
To review the October 12 meeting info packet, visit https://www.townoffincastle.org/agenda-minutes-packets.php.