City of Greensboro let Ice House fall into ruin

The way this whole thing has been handled by the city is wrong on so many levels.  Our municipal government should be in the business of setting an example for the private sector to follow.  If one didn’t know better, one could get the impression that Greensboro’s slum-lord-extraordinaire Bill Agapion was the property manager for the Colonial Ice House.

In 2000, my neighborhood and others wholeheartedly endorsed, and still gladly comply with, the city’s “Ordinance to prevent demolition by neglect” that requires the city to step in when a property owner allows his/her historic buildings to go to hell in a hand cart.

The fact that the city has engaged in the passive demolition of the Ice House by neglecting it for so long seemed like a proper thing to write about for this week’s N&R column.  Previous coverage of the Ice House debacle can be found here.

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9/27/06

By David Hoggard

When it comes to old buildings, I regard them in much the same way that an environmentalist regards our natural resources – all we got is all we got, so we’d better take care of what’s here.

My family lives in a 1920’s bungalow in the Aycock Historic District. Notice I didn’t say we “own� it, because we don’t. Not really.

Sure, someday the mortgage will be paid and we will have clear title to the property. But even on the day we start a fire with the deed of trust, we won’t truly “ownâ€? this old house – in a metaphysical sense. I see myself as merely the current occupant, charged with caring for the place for a time. By being good stewards, many more families will call our house a home in the coming centuries, just as others did before us.

In other words, I think my role in Greensboro’s architectural history is to not screw up the property that I ‘own’. Our city council agreed with that notion once upon a time.  

 

In 2000 the council adopted an ordinance to prevent people from allowing properties in our locally designated historic districts to fall into such a state of disrepair that demolition was the only economically feasible option. Greensboro’s “ordinance to prevent demolition by neglect� allows the city to intervene when a structure is identified as being passively demolished through neglect by the ‘owner’. Following due process, remedial steps include notification, fines, and ultimately, city-contracted repairs, which are billed to the owner in the form of a lien.

The city could use a dose of its own preventative medicine. We taxpayers bought the Colonial Ice House in 2003 with an eye towards preserving and selling it. We’ve done neither.

Once purchased, it was decided that two-thirds of the building should be demolished to create a parking lot for city-owned busses. During that demolition, a portion of the remaining structure’s roof was severely damaged.

Now you and I would’ve run down to the hardware store and buy a tarp to cover such damage until repairs could get underway. But here we are, years later, and the weather has taken a predictable and terrible toll on the building’s interior.

Adding insult to injury, we’ve allowed a tree to continue growing through the side of our building since the day we bought it. If I’m selling a property, one of the first things I’d do is remove any and all trees that are growing through it, if for no other reason than to maximize its curb appeal.

I know it’s a radical idea, but I’d also place a ‘for sale’ sign on any building I was trying to unload to let passersby know it was on the market. We didn’t do that either.

Perhaps due to the above neglect and other non-efforts to make our property appealing to potential buyers, offers to purchase have been predictably few and far between.

So, some weeks ago, our city council OK’d the final solution for another of Greensboro’s historic buildings: demolition. In a classic case of “do as I say, not as I do�, the city has – in a very real sense – practiced ‘demolition by neglect’ on its own property, thereby rendering it nearly unsalvageable. Because we didn’t take the minimal steps necessary to prevent its further deterioration, our property will now likely be hauled to the landfill.

With the Ice House, official Greensboro has shown itself to be an irresponsible steward of our architectural heritage.

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One Comment

  1. Wayne R.
    Posted September 27, 2006 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Amen, David.

    You sort of expect that from the City, now don’t you?