Moving forward toward a solution to the Downtown Wall issue
The city appears to be closing in on an amicable resolution to the lingering dispute over the removal of a freestanding brick wall in a pedestrian mall in the heart of Doiwntown Waynesboro.
“We have a tentative plan in place, and the city is moving forward,” said Constance Paradiso, the owner of the 329 W. Main St. building adjacent to the pedestrian mall, which has been partially cordoned off since last spring after city work crews began and abruptly stopped work to remove the brick wall that has been attached to building since the early 1970s.
Basic structural issues regarding the wall pushed the city action last spring, when the wall seemed to be on the verge of becoming a prime safety hazard to pedestrians and to the owners of the building next door, as cracks in the wall that began to manifest seemed to foretell the beginning of the end of the wall’s lifespan. The city decided to take action in the form of a plan to demolish the wall, and while that plan was coordinated with the Paradisos to the point where city workers were given access to the 329 W. Main St. building to do what they needed to do to get the wall down, there appears to have been no endgame in mind before the work was begun.
After some initial back-and-forth between the city and Constance and her husband, Bruce, over structural issues that came up in the immediate aftermath of the commencement of work on the wall-demolition project and then the realization of the parties involved as to that lack of a thought-out endgame to the project, the two sides were at an impasse for several months. City Manager Mike Hamp and Assistant City Manager Jim Shaw have been working with the Paradisos since the first of the year to try to craft a solution amenable to both the private-property owners and the city’s interests, and the two presented a proposed plan of action to that end to Waynesboro City Council at its business meeting Monday night.
The plan, with the support of the City Council, has the city footing the bill for the application of stucco to the wall to the Paradisos’ building that would be exposed by the removal of the city-owned brick wall, which was put up in the early ’70s after the owner of the parcel of land on which the Paradisos’ building sits decided to tear down what was then the other half of the building to donate to the city to create the pedestrian mall.
The low bid for the stucco application came in at $24,000, Shaw told Council members Monday night. The city did look at other options, including painting the exposed 329 West Main wall, “but the condition of the brick and mortar at this point, at least at the advice we’ve been given, is such that it needs some sort of more secure coverage,” Shaw said.
“It would be open to further deterioration to the elements,” Shaw said. “The mortar is of such condition, and there are actually some cracks in where there was what looked like cinderblock that at one point replaced the historic wall that would just be open to the elements, and we would continue to deteriorate,” Shaw said.
There will be additional cost to be incurred in stabilizing the 329 West Main building, Shaw said. The city will also take care of taking down the existing freestanding brick wall, adding more costs associated with city employees’ time and the rental of equipment to do the work to the city’s bottom line.
There is in addition a $10,400 contingency in the budget for the project to have a structural engineer on site to supervise the work as it is being done.
“Our hope is that we don’t have to spend all of that money, but it may be well-advised because of the age of the structure and the experience that we’ve already had that our work be supervised by a structural engineer,” Shaw said.
All told, the work would come in at an estimated $50,000 cost to the city. A portion of the money toward that bottom line will come from the budget that the city put in place for the work when the project was in the planning stages last year. Additional monies will be pulled from economic-development incentive programs like facade grants and landscape grants that Shaw said the city feels will be underutilized this fiscal year.
“I really think it’s important that we get this done,” Vice Mayor Frank Lucente said at Monday night’s Council meeting. “I’d like to proceed and get this wrapped up. I’d like to see it done before May, and we’re getting close,” Lucente said.
Shaw estimated a schedule that includes a week to get the city crews mobilized on-site, two weeks for the work to demolish the existing freestanding wall, and then another week to get the stucco applied to the exposed wall on the Paradisos’ building.
That doesn’t leave a lot of time to get the work done by the first of May, which is not just a date pulled out of the air, but would essentially be the one-year anniversary of the beginning of work to remove the freestanding wall.
“It’s a little bit aggressive,” Constance Paradiso said. “I hope it gets done that fast, but I want to make sure that it gets done right, that we’re not rushed into it. We’ve waited all this time. I don’t want to accept whatever comes our way.”
That said, Paradiso said she is “encouraged” to see the progress toward coming to a deal on getting the project moving ahead.
City Councilwoman Nancy Dowdy, for her part, hopes the city learns a lesson from the lack of foresight given to the project. “I understand that we’ve created some problems here with the stability of the building. But before we ever started this work, I think we should have had an agreement with the property owner as to what our responsbility was in terms of the condition of the wall when we walked away from it,” Dowdy said.
“This is a large amount of taxpayer money,” Dowdy said. “It is our pedestrian mall, but it is not our building. And I don’t see a $50,000 return on this money for our city. Fifty thousand dollars really is a lot of money in this environment when we’re struggling to make ends meet. This is of grave concern to me. But I do not feel that we have an option at this point in time,” Dowdy said.
– Story by Chris Graham