- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - One day after the Charleston City Council passed a bill that could extend the stay of demolition of historic buildings from 90 days to nine months, crews began to disassemble two log cabins in South Hills that date back to the late 1840s.

Developer J.D. Stricklen, who purchased the four-acre property where the Gilliland cabins stand in February, made the decision to start dismantling the cabins after the previous owner, Jean Miller, turned over possession and vacated the property May 2.

With the main house on the site now vacant, “the liability and responsibility of public safety becomes too great to prevent curious passersby and vandals from coming onto the property,” Stricklen said on May 3 during a meeting with his lawyers, Kent George, Chris Hamb and Chelsea Richmond, of Robinson & McElwee PLLC.

It likely will take a few weeks to completely disassemble the cabins, depending on the weather, George said.

Crews began dismantling the log structures with hand tools on May 3, and any usable salvaged material will be reused locally, Stricklen said.

Stricklen has entered into a contract with Charleston lawyer William Pepper, who owns Benedict Haid Farm, in Clendenin. Stricklen said Pepper has experience in salvaging material from historic structures.

“The goal is to eventually reconstruct a structure that has historic components,” George said.

Pepper said he will take any usable materials from the cabin to be used in constructing a “historic replication” on his farm.

“We made an agreement where he’s giving me whatever I can use in exchange for properly dismantling (the cabins) and taking away a considerable amount of worthless wood,” Pepper said.

Stricklen noted his liability concerns as the cabins’ new owner. On May 3, he said, one of the chimneys collapsed unexpectedly.

In the smaller cabin, crews found four feet of standing water in the cellar, he added.

“What happens if a curious child gets down there and drowns?” Stricklen said.

City Councilman Tom Lane, who was vocally opposed to moving or dismantling the cabins, introduced the bill the City Council passed May 2, although it has no bearing on the cabins because the stay of demolition for those structures expired in February.

“Obviously, there was a demolition delay in this case, and it provides a pretty good example of how the bill could have operated,” Lane said on May 3. “In many cases like this, I think the public was caught by surprise that the cabins might be demolished.”

The cabins have been at the center of a heated debate between Stricklen and South Hills residents.

“I’ve always been clear that the cabins weren’t staying. Their deterioration has been going on for a long time,” Stricklen said.

He referenced a memo from City Building Commissioner Tony Harmon to a Planning Department employee in November after conducting an inspection of the structures.

“It was obvious that the two smaller structures on the property were deteriorated to the point of being structurally unsound,” Harmon wrote.

Lane and the Charleston Land Trust have been working to find alternatives to removing the cabins.

Lane told a reporter Tuesday that the West Virginia Land Trust was “agreeable” to taking the title on the cabins in hopes that a permanent owner could be found.

Stricklen said he had hoped to build a 10-home subdivision on the four-acre property where the cabins are, but the Municipal Planning Commission denied his request at a public hearing in January.

Since then, he closed on the purchase of the property and appealed the Planning Commission’s decision in Kanawha County Circuit Court, also naming the city in the lawsuit.

Stricklen wouldn’t discuss the ongoing litigation on May 3.

While Stricklen cannot currently develop the property, there are no restrictions to prevent him from having the cabins torn down.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.


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