Now she's joined by her husband on the town's payroll, someone who's going to tell you if your property is up to codes and if you can rent it out... This woman is a blight on the community and I hope several of you challenge this decision and force her to do what anyone else would be forced to do .. bite the bullet and fix it or sell it, not raze it. Why should she be allowed to do what others can't in this town?
WINCHESTER — The historic Main Street house at the center of a demolition controversy four years ago is on track to finally come down. The Historic District Commission voted 4-1 Monday night to approve the demolition of the roughly 200-year-old structure at 71 Main St., which is owned by Margaret A. Sharra and her brothers, James S. and Michael P. Shannon.
Commission member Julia Ferrari was the dissenting vote.
Anyone affected by the ruling has 30 days to appeal the decision, which came after a roughly hour-long public hearing, to the Winchester Zoning Board of Adjustment, according to state law. If the decision’s not appealed, the siblings can move forward with razing the house.
The vote count Monday was identical to when the commission decided in 2011 not to allow the developer of a Dollar General, whose officials wanted to build a store on the site, to raze the house.
At the time, Sharra and her brothers, who bought the 4.5-acre property in 2008 with the intention of turning it into a bed and breakfast, had planned to sell it to the Cleveland-based developer. The sale never happened, and the property has remained on the market since.
Sharra, who is the town’s land use administrator and zoning code enforcement officer, told historical district commission members Monday the house is plagued with problems that make it unsafe and beyond repair.
The building’s four exterior walls and roof appear sound, but inside at least six of the 10 support beams holding up the house are either rotted out or cut, she said, and the floors are caving in.
Those conditions existed before Sharra and her brothers bought the house, and have likely gotten worse, she said. Besides the roof, the items holding up the house include concrete- and wood blocks, stones and even a car jack, she said.
Further, she added, three contractors who looked at the house said they’re concerned it could implode with or without renovations.
She presented these contractors’ reports to the commission.
It would cost more than $600,000 to repair the house, according to Sharra.
“There is no reasonable cost. And even at any cost, there is no guarantee the house can be salvaged,” she said. “I think it is in good faith that the historical commission approve the demolition.”
She said if someone wanted to repair and renovate the house, they’d have to be a “filthy-rich millionaire who’d want to do it as a labor of love.”
According to Winchester’s Historic District ordinance, most construction, repair, alteration, moving or demolition of structures in the town’s two historic districts can’t be done without approval from the commission.
Commission members asked few questions of Sharra Monday, with the exception of Ferrari who inquired about specifics such as how long the property had been for sale, where it had been advertised, the asking prices, how the asking prices were set and by whom, the level of interest in the property and if it is a tax burden.
Ferrari also referenced a report from 2011 to support her position that the federal-style home is historic and should be saved.
The report, by historical preservationist Lynne Emerson Monroe, says the house isn’t a candidate for official designation on the National Register of Historic Places, but it makes a “substantial contribution” to the Winchester Historic District.
However, when Ferrari tried to bring up the report to other commission members, Chairman Denis V. Murphy 2nd said it couldn’t be discussed because it wasn’t submitted as evidence during the hearing.
The two-story house was built in 1810, and has had additions put on it through the years. There is very little historical significance left inside the structure, Sharra said.
Earlier in the meeting, Sharra asked Ferrari to voluntarily recuse herself from the discussion and vote because of the actions she said Ferrari took in 2011 to prevent the house from being demolished. They included working with others to get it on N.H. Preservation Alliance’s Seven to Save list, Sharra said.
Ferrari refused to recuse herself and defended her actions, saying she was “acting as a representative of the citizens of New Hampshire,” and did her due diligence as a board member.
When it came time to vote on the demolition proposal Monday night, Ferrari voted against it, saying “given the historic nature of the building” she believes it needs to be preserved.
Some residents and business owners at the hearing spoke in support of Sharra, saying the house is an eyesore and detriment to the ongoing revitalization of downtown Winchester.
“In the interest of the town and its people, I think it’s time for it to come down,” said Robert Patton-Spruill, who owns properties on Main Street including the New England Sweetwater and Farm Distillery.
Patton-Spruill said he’s “personally invested” in the character of the town, and doesn’t believe the loss of the house will affect that.
Resident Joan Gratton, a member of the Winchester Historical Society, spoke against demolishing the house, saying the commission shouldn’t approve it just because the owners didn’t do their homework when they bought it.
“We’re not looking at whether I should have known better,” Sharra countered.
She said she and her brothers have many ideas about what would look nice on the property for the town after the house is demolished, but had no sketches or drawings finalized.
However, when that time comes, they’ll be back before the historic district commission to get approval, she said.
Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.