In a genteel move that seemed right out of a movie, a wealthy, unnamed benefactor has apparently swept in to save a condemned and abandoned historic Manassas home from possible destruction.
Before Manassas City Council voted 4-2 Monday to use $30,000 from the city’s general fund contingency to demolish the 107-year old house, Tony Pancione of Tovan Construction submitted a building permit to the city for select demolition of the property, along with a plan for restoration that would have the property ready for possible occupancy within a year.
The proposed work is being funded by the unnamed benefactor, Pancione said.
A contract for the first $26,000 in work has been signed and bonded, Timothy Purnell, attorney for Dorthy M. Feaganes, the owner of the property, said.
If approved, Tovan would be allowed to replace the Prescott House's roof, which is allowing water into the structure and causing more damage, and also replace the porch, including stairs city officials say are so badly damaged there isn’t a safe path from the house, Purnell said.
What action the council would take at that point isn't clear.
Jamie Collins, Manassas development services manager, told city council Monday in a presentation that the Tovan renovation plan for the home seems adequate, but there’s no way to validate there are actually funds for the project.
Members of city council also questioned the source of the money for the project.
“ … This owner (Feaganes), if I’m not mistaken, applied for bankruptcy; this would suggest there isn’t a whole lot of funds available to do this work. Do you (Collins) or anybody else have any useful ideas on where this sugar daddy funding is going to come from?" Councilman Jonathan Way said.
Years ago, Feaganes’ husband was an airline mechanic who befriended an airline pilot who worked with him, Purnell said. This pilot, who is “very well off” recently read about the dire straights of the Prescott House in the media and offered to help Feaganes out financially to prevent the destruction of the house, Purnell told council.
The first thing Feaganes did with the unnamed pilot's money is hire a lawyer, Purnell said
“My fees have all been paid by this—you call him a sugar daddy …” Purnell said to council.
“Uh, let’s call him a benefactor,” Mayor Hal Parrish II said to Purnell.
Purnell said he Pancione recently went to visit the benefactor, who lives in Virginia.
The benefactor wouldn’t commit to a specific amount he would spend to save the house, but said he wanted to take it slowly, Purnell said.
“He said, ‘Let’s take it step by step because I don’t want to tell you I’ll fund it and then you get in there and start doing your specialized demolition and in fact the whole thing’s rotten,’” Purnell said.
“He said, ‘the goal is to get her (Feaganes) back into her home,’” Pancione said.
Pancione, whose company has worked on several noteable structures including those at Howard University, said the house itself is structurally sound.
They will work to get the home back to how it looked originally, which includes replacing its hallmark porch, Pacione said of the Queen Anne-style home at 9300 Prescott Avenue, right at the corner of Quarry Road.
Even if they are permitted to make changes to the home, there are still legal hurdles.
There is a court hearing Thursday during which the court will decide whether to dismiss the pending bankruptcy case, Manassas City Attorney Martin Crim said on Monday.
If the case is dismissed, the mortgage lieu holder, Reverse Mortgage Solutions (RMS) Inc. could foreclose on the property, he said.
“In May of 2011, you all [city council] voted on a resolution that requires them to have a plan within 30 days,” Crim said Monday.
The plan submitted by Tovan is 18 months late, Crim added.
Collins said during Monday's presentation on the Prescott House that the city has been trying to come to a resolution on the property since 1996.
In April of 2011 she and the fire marshal inspected the house and deemed it unsafe, Collins said.
She later told council she is in favor of using the $30,000 from the general fund to demolish the house because the owner of the property hasn’t remedied the unsafe conditions, she said.
“I am charged to enforce the provisions of the Virginia uniform statewide building code; to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens and visitors to the city of Manassas,” Collins said.
Members of city council had mixed emotions about the structure and the last ditch efforts to save it.
“I’m a little suspicious that the benefactor shows up at the last minute, so in my mind, time is up," Councilman Marc Aveni said just before making the motion to approve the transfer of the $30,000 for demolition.
Councilman Way second the motion.
“I have mixed emotions … we are a historical town; that’s something we value so it’s very difficult to support taking down an important structure,” Councilman Steven Randolph said.
Before voting against the motion, Randolph stressed it has been 16 years and he would like to see some benchmarks made in improving the home.
Councilman Andy Harrover also voted against the motion to transfer the funds.
As far as the permit is concerned, if approved, they would mobilized immediately to replace the roof and porch, Purnell said. The work could start as soon as next week, he added.
The city received Tovan Construction building permit request Dec. 6, but has yet to respond to it formally, Crim said.