Pierceville future to be decided

Published 1:43 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Owner wants to demolish house

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

The historic but deteriorating Pierceville manor house and outbuildings, some of the oldest buildings in the town of Smithfield, have inched closer to possible demolition by their owner.

Mary Delk Crocker filed an application to tear down her circa-1730s manor house and its outbuildings located on the Pierceville Farm, which are considered “landmark historic structures” in the town. Her application will go before the Board of Historic and Architectural Review (BHAR) for consideration with a public hearing Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 6:30 p.m.

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Whether or not BHAR approves Crocker’s application after the public hearing, it will proceed to the Smithfield Town Council for review, according to Town Attorney Bill Riddick.   {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

In the application to the town, dated Dec. 27, 2016, Crocker’s legal representative Archer L. Jones states that the buildings “have been in disrepair for many years and it is economically impossible to restore either the single family residence or the outbuildings at a reasonable cost.”

The buildings on the Pierceville Farm at 502 Grace St. have been in violation of the town’s historic preservation ordinance for nearly a decade.  

Crocker and Jones have fought against the preservation ordinance, which requires Crocker to maintain the dilapidated buildings on her property, which was once owned by Thomas Pierce, who came to Isle of Wight in the 1700s.

Jones, who was not available for comment, said at a Town Council meeting in August 2016 that state code allows for demolition of the buildings because the property has been on the market for over a year, and the ordinances enforced by the town have limited his client’s ability to sell the property.

Crocker, 85, put the 58-acre property up for sale in 2014 for $2 million “as is.” Any new purchaser would inherit the responsibility of bringing the buildings up to code to meet the town’s zoning and historic ordinance standards.

Crocker, who was born on the property and lived there all her life until recently, appealed the ordinance to the Town Council in September. Her appeal was denied. 

The Pierceville property, currently zoned community conservation, has been a source of controversy since 2009, when it was first found to be in violation of the town’s ordinances.

After it was put on the market by Crocker, a group of residents of Goose Hill, an upscale neighborhood of 16 houses located across Cary Street from the farm, formed an active and ultimately successful opposition to a housing developer interested in purchasing and rezoning the property to construct 151 single-family home units in 2015.

The group went on to form Preserve Smithfield Inc., a nonprofit dedicated largely to working to save the historic buildings at Pierceville by seeking donations to purchase the property in the hopes of turning it into a colonial working farm, ideally run with the aid of agriculture students from nearby schools, according to Preserve Smithfield Executive Director Mark Gay.

The group has so far been unsuccessful in locating funds to buy the property.

“Our firm belief remains that, for the past 24 months, the current owner(s) have failed to offer the property for sale at a reasonable price within its current zoning status,” said Gay in an email. “The $2.2 million asking price can be justified only by intensive development of the property.”

The group is still planning to expand its stakeholders to buy the property, according to Gay.  {/mprestriction}