MONTPELIER — The future of a landmark building in the Capital City may depend on efforts to form a new nonprofit to save it.
Last week, the 1836 Greek Revival building at 5 Home Way off Route 2 was declared a public nuisance by the City Council because of its derelict state. The council heard a new nonprofit could be formed to salvage the building and restore it.
The property is considered to be of major historical significance in the city. It was land granted to Col. Jacob Davis, the founder of Montpelier, who deeded it to the city on which the State House is built. The farmstead is believed to have been built by subsequent property owner Burrage Dimmick, according to the National Register of Historic Places.
But after adjoining landowner Fred Connor, of Connor Contracting, filed a complaint under the city’s nuisance ordinance, an inspection of the house revealed significant structural deficiencies. Connor told the council that he had first right of refusal if the property was sold.
The council set a deadline of noon on May 17 for the owners of the building to come up with a plan to “abate any nuisance or hazard to the public.” Failure to do so could result in an order to demolish it.
A final abatement or remediation plan must outline specific work to be done, a finance plan to pay for work to be done, and a schedule for completing full mitigation. Failure to do so could result in an order from the council for injunctive relief, penalties, abatement of nuisances and hazards or demolition of the property, and the imposition of liens for expenses incurred.
In 2001, the Hoare family sold the property to Food Works, a food nutrition and education program. But Food Works was dissolved by its board of directors as being financially unviable after a 2014 investigation by the Attorney General’s Office found that the nonprofit had mismanaged funds and grants it received for renovations and its education programs.
But the council’s directive that the “owners” of the building present a remediation plan has created legal and logistical problem for those who hope to save the building.
According to representatives of state organizations that provided loans, grants and conservation easements on the property and building, Food Works was not properly dissolved because some of its assets were not sold, including the property.
However, the holders of liens and easements on the property all said they would like to see a new nonprofit take ownership and restore the building. They include the Vermont Community Loan Fund, which holds the first mortgage of $90,000; the Vermont Conservation and Housing Board, which granted $57,500 to Food Works and has a conservation easement on the open land and a historic preservation easement on the building; and the Preservation Trust of Vermont, which awarded several small planning grants to Food Works and holds a conservation easement on the façade of the building through VHCB.
Jamie Duggan, vice chairman of the Montpelier Preservation Commission, told the council last week he hoped to form a new nonprofit to take ownership of the property and restore the house. Duggan has experience restoring buildings through his business, Preservation Unlimited, and has worked for the state Division of Historic Preservation and Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield.
“I’ve been continuing discussions with interested parties,” Duggan said. “I’m also hoping to speak with Fred Connor to see what the potential might be to prevent the demolition of that main house, in particular.”
Duggan said he previously did some restoration work with his students on the house and thought it could be a “laboratory for teaching traditional building construction.”
“There are a few other examples of that Greek Revival style around town, but this was the first and it can be credited with making that style fashionable in Montpelier,” Duggan said. “It would be a great place to educate people on how to restore buildings like it the right way.”
Duggan noted that the council directive that the house be stabilized also required identifying the owners of the property.
“Whoever submits the stabilization plan has to prove that they have the authority to do that and that is a big obstacle and one that will need all parties to collaborate to resolve it,” Duggan said. “In my mind, there’s no doubt that something could be done there, and that building could be saved. It’s a matter of can this complex legal situation be untangled in a way that an idea can be moved forward.”
Duggan remained unsure about meeting the city’s deadline to respond with an abatement plan but said he continues to discuss proposals with other parties involved.
“I can’t answer that question yet, but I plan to see if there’s a way to even respond to the City Council,” he said.