Owners ask again to raze Pierceville

Published 12:42 pm Wednesday, July 19, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

The owner of a landmark structure that predates the town of Smithfield has filed another application to have it torn down.

Mary Delk Crocker, 86, was born and raised at 502 Grace St., commonly known as Pierceville, which has been under violation of the town’s historical preservation ordinance for nearly a decade.

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Crocker’s latest application seeks again to demolish the dilapidated structures “as a matter of right.”

However, her application, received by the town June 26, may be incomplete, according to a staff report from Smithfield Planning and Zoning Administrator William Saunders, who was scheduled to discuss the application at a meeting of the Board of Historic and Architectural Review Tuesday, July 18. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The application is based on a town zoning ordinance (Article 3.M.E.19(A)(1) and 20(A)) and Virginia Code 15.2-2306 (A)(3)(i) that have three conditions when it comes to determining an owner’s right to demolish a landmark building. The first is that the owner applies to the Town Council for the right to demolish, which Crocker had done in December, and was denied in April.

The second condition is that the owner has made a bona fide offer to sell the landmark property “at a price reasonably related to its fair market value” to someone willing to perform a restoration that has been outstanding for a period of at least 12 months.

The third condition is that, at the end of 12 months, no contract has been executed for the sale of the land.

According to a staff report to the Board of Historic and Architectural Review, Crocker’s application, submitted by her legal representative Archer Jones, is missing several key elements, including a completed zoning permit application form as well as a zoning permit fee.

The town staff report also states that the application does not contain sufficient evidence that Crocker’s $2 million asking price for Pierceville “is reasonably related to its fair market value,” nor has the application shown evidence that no bona fide sales contract has been executed since April.

The staff report further notes that the application lacks any site plan or details regarding which structures would be demolished in the proposal.

“Regardless of the merits of the owner’s contention that a permit for demolition as a matter of right is deserved, the first matter of business is to determine the completeness of the application,” the report states.

The Pierceville buildings, engulfed by vegetation, are crumbling, and Crocker has said she does not have the financial means to restore them in compliance with the town’s ordinance.

Crocker listed the property, which contains about 58 acres of farmland, for $2 million in 2014.

The property is currently zoned community conservation.

In 2014, Crocker entered into a contract with Hearndon Construction, which planned to purchase the land to develop 151 single family home units, which would require that the property be rezoned to residential.

Hearndon had stated it would renovate the historic buildings in the contract, according to Crocker’s demolition by right application.

The rezoning proposal was met with strong opposition from nearby residents, and was subsequently denied by the Town Council. Following the rezoning rejection, the contract with Hearndon fell through, according to Crocker’s application.

Two more offers to buy the property were made since then. One, in October, was from Rhine Holdings, which withdrew during the contract’s due diligence period, according to Crocker’s application.

The other was made this past April from an individual who offered to purchase up to five acres for $40,000 per acre. Crocker rejected the offer, according to the application.

Crocker had offered to give the primary building and one half acre to the town, an offer the town rejected.

Crocker filed a lawsuit against the Town Council in October, which, by agreement, the town did not accept service of until this past May, according to the application.

The town has, “by agreement,” not yet filed a response to the action, according to the application.

Jones has argued to the Town Council that the buildings of Pierceville are beyond repair, and haven’t received any maintenance since Crocker inherited the property from her parents nearly 40 years ago.

“It is not financially practical to renovate or rehabilitate the structures,” Jones states in the application. “the structures have no value.”

The primary home was once owned by Captain Thomas Pierce in the 1730s and is considered one of the oldest existing buildings in the town.  {/mprestriction}