My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

9300 Prescott – Last Post

I wanted to post today and maybe correct some misconceptions about the City’s action on 9300 Prescott.  This isn’t to clarify my position…that’s no mystery.

Some have indicated that “If the city had done something 5 years ago we wouldn’t be in this position!!”  You’re wrong.  We have been doing things.  About 4 years ago, after writing violation after violation and building our case, our staff finally took the owners to court.  After much back and forth, the judge ordered the owners to repair the house.  The owners countered that they didn’t have the means to fix the house.  The judge offered the City two options: pay to fix it ourselves or be quiet.  The Council, at that time, voted to spend around $35k to stabilize the house.  Two weeks later, Mr. Parrish (who originally voted to spend the money), brought the matter back up and voted against it.  At this point, things went into a holding pattern.  There was no point in staff writing more violations – if the Council wasn’t going to take action that was simply a waste of time.  So, the issue went into hibernation.

Others have indicated that we should, somehow or other, fine the owners into submission.  That’s an interesting idea but we don’t have civil fines for zoning infractions. (The Land Use Committee has asked staff to re-institute fines but the planning commission doesn’t seem to be on board).  We also don’t have fines for building code violations.  Those were both eliminated before I was on the Council.  I don’t know why we don’t but we don’t.  The City can take you to court after several violations but if you don’t have the money to fix your property, the judge really isn’t going to do anything and the City isn’t going to do anything about it either….

Some seem to think the City doesn’t take enforcement seriously enough: we have 4 inspectors that do our work city-wide.  One of the first things I did after I was first elected was to add 3 inspectors to augment that workforce (only had 1 then).  I guess that we can add more inspectors but it all costs money.  Our inspectors are “combination inspectors”.  They do both building and zoning inspections.

Finally, let me explain how the law works:  if the Council declares your property to be “blighted” we will send you a letter indicating that you have 90 days to clear the situation.  If the property owner does nothing, the staff brings the matter back to Council for a decision: do nothing, clear the lot or stabilize the structure.  Whichever way things go, the work is done and the City puts a lien against the property.  The lien draws a penalty of 10%/year (!).  If, after 2 years the lien is not repaid, the City can compel a sale of the property.  That’s pretty bare-knuckled stuff if you ask me and the Council always needs to proceed carefully.

If you have questions, post below.  If you start throwing rocks, you’re done.


  1. The points made in your last paragraph (re a lien, 10% interest and compelled sale), nullify the argument that, if the City spent $ on the Prescott house, others would seek to have the City “fix” their houses as well.

  2. Let us also not forget the other side of this whole story – the Family. Once upon a time when the Manassas Journal Messenger actually was a “home town newspaper”, there were several articles in the beginning and through time about how the Mother wanted to hold on to the property, and the children were divided on repairing or selling. The family in-fighting and indecision is a contributing factor in all of this.

    The City, in my view, has done what it could over the last years within its sovereign authority….those who are making noise not enough has been done need to remember there are two sides to this saga of that property.

  3. Actually, I don’t believe it is correct to say that the City did what it could do. It could have done more several years ago and nearly did so but for the single noted tie-breaking vote. So it’s not that the City could not do more, rather it chose by vote not to do more. Likewise, it could do more now if it chooses to. The lien and interest protection that are now provided for by statute did not exist when the previously tie-breaking vote was cast. Having said that, however, I recognize that whether the City should do what is clearly now allowed by statute is a matter over which reasonable minds may and do differ. Insofar as the upcoming single vote will most likely be a “no” vote consistent with the ARB’s recent resolution, this is likely all a rather academic discussion — other than getting the historical record correct.

  4. @Rich

    I think you mean Parrish’s likely upcoming “yes” vote. The motion being voted on is Wolfe’s motion in which a “yes” vote would be in favor of his motion which is consistent with the ARB recommendation to demolish the house while a “no” vote would be against Wolfe’s motion and would likely mean he wants to spend the money to “winterize” (if I recall the phrase correctly) the house and only demolish the porch as part of that process with the hope of saving the whole house which would be inconsistent with the ARB demolition recommendation.

    Correct me if i misunderstood your comment Rich…

  5. Andy: one issue with the use of civil fines by a municipality is that they often become “a cost of doing business”. For example; if I have an illegal sign advertising my business and the City fines me $100. I just factor that $100 into my business plan (raise my fess or prices) such that the fine does not impinge on my profits. Plus the amount of the fine has to be reasonable such that a parking fine would be ,say, $30 not $30,000. Additionally, if the City could fine the owners of the Prescott house, and they couldn’t pay, where are you? It would be wasted staff effort and cost the City more than it was worth.

  6. Ray, that’s right.

  7. The WaPo article today about the peaceful protest confirms what I wrote about the Family side of the issue….summed up in one line: “Feaganes doesn’t want to sell — she says it’s a family home and she hopes to live there again one day”

  8. I was under the impression, maybe incorrect, that the owners had a reverse mortgage on the house. If so, that would suggest they never intended to treat it as the future forever family home. It was my impression that, once they got the cash from the reverse mortgage, that they just stopped spending money on the place and living there. If I am wrong I stand happy to be corrected.

  9. I do not believe that tax dollars should go into this home. Let it go. There are too many other City priorities that need to be addressed to spend money on this house.

  10. Wow..a reverse mortgage???!!???

    If true, must be from a private lendor. If it was either a single-purpose type or the HUD federally-insured one, the City would not have had the fight they have had. Although, having said that, makes you wonder about the bank…the “Catch-22” in a reverse mortgage is once the home is no longer the primary residence, the loan has to be repaid.

    Having heard City Staff presentations about their trying to deal with the bank and also the daughter’s comments at Council, let us know add a third side to the tale:
    The Mortgage issues – The Family issues – the City’s Actions

  11. The mayor is far to good a politician to simply vote yes/no.

  12. As noted over on Greg’s Black Velvet blog, the Manassas Tea Party has issued a rallying cry to appear at Citizen’s Time to protest spending the $88K to mothball the house.

    And I wrote over there the House is Item #18 on the Monday’s Agenda which should be taken up (if Council holds to norm) somewhere between 6 – 6:30 p.m. Come 7:30 at Citizens Time, all that will be left for anyone to say is in praise of the decision or condemn it.

  13. All the blighted houses on the city’s list should get this same council treatment, then in due time be demolished, and the appropriate liens instated. Last time I remember there were four or more, including Prescott. Do it and move on. It’s not like Lincoln visited there or anything. We already pay for one of those.

  14. As nice as it might be to have a fixed up property at the gateway to Old Town, clearly the owner isn’t able and I don’t think it is City government’s place to do so. I don’t like the idea of another penny of my taxes going towards anything to do with this property. Enough is enough.

  15. @AndyH: couple of questions, oh BlogMeister!

    The new article over at Manassas Patch refers this to being a HUD-backed Reverse Mortgage. Did the City ever learn if this is true? And if it is, did anyone ping HUD as to why, after Mrs. Feaganes moved out and it was no longer the PRIMARY residence for her – and that is the key word – did HUD via BoA ever move in to (1) start collecting the funds paid under the reverse mortgage and (2) seize the property until such time it was paid or force the sale? Those are the HUD rules for these types of mortgages.

    Of course, when it comes to BoA, their part of the problem too…ever notice their abbreviation is the same name for a snake?

  16. BOA has not truly focused on this notwithstanding numerous explicit requests and inquiries. One may infer that the owners successfully played off everyone knowing that noone would ever really take any action, not the city, not the feds, not BOA, nobody. For the last five years or so the majority of council has essentially stood for doing nothing on this. Lots of talk, then … nothing. Old town this, old town that, but no action. Lack of real city action allowed house get in bad shape, now on verge of taking it down because action not taken sooner.

  17. Beman said:

    “Lack of real city action allowed house get in bad shape…”

    Ultimately this is the responsibility of the property owner, other actors may have contributed to the problem but the constant in this process is the owner who didn’t care enough about the community or even the house, to do what was necessary to save the house.

  18. The house is going to be demolished. Mark my words. The mayor will vote for it. Anything that gets built there will look better than what is existing and we will finally all be able to move on.

    No bank will finance its rebuilding. Anyone who knows anything about restoring an old house like that will agree that its a MINIMUM million dollar proposition. Only a fool would sink that kind of money into that property. Anyone who thinks that the public coffer should be used needs to have their head examined. Its real easy to spend other people’s money. Ask a protestor to cough up the dough themselves and silence is all you’ll get.

  19. All the nuances of past council actions (or inactions), familial infighting, reverse mortgages, and HUD are lost on the average citizen. The simple choice is save the property (and incurr ownership of the problem) or demolish the property, slap a lien on the lot, and recoup the demolishon costs and any previously spent monies, when the lot is sold. If there are positive proceeds from the sale, remaining after the lien is settled, then they should go to the family. If a deficit remains, then take them to court, and sue them for the rest. Whether or not the delta is settled, at least there is a judgement on record, demonstrating that the city acted in the best interests of the taxpayer.

  20. Having been through a similar situation…where there was a lien on a property (albeit, I’m not a government, I’m an ordinary person)…you can’t get blood out of a turnip. The money…GONE, never to be seen again! Rip the bandaid off with as little pain as possible.

    All we are saaaaaayinnnnnng IS DON’T TAX MY HOUSE!

    Glad to see most folks on here want to do the right thing…Country Doc, DavidB, J Straw, Mary Ann Tyler…let the house go and use the money on more important issues!

  21. I don’t have a dog in the fight, but as long as the City does not hold the owner responsible in some manner what incentive do other like property owners have to comply with a notice from City Inspectors? Weather you decide to tear it down, stabilize or completely rehab the house, waith the minimum amount of years, require repayment, and if paymernt is not made then sell it and recoup the City’s money. Again, I don’t have a dog in the fight, but as long as the money will be resouped, what is the problem? What happens is you end up with other property owners doing nothing like the empty building on Centreville Road with the chain link fence around it and broken windows.

  22. The Mayor broke the tie last night.

    No City of Manassas funds will be spent to stabilize 9300 Prescott.

  23. I watched the entire meeting. From what the Mayor said I understood that he was advised by legal counsel that he lacked authority to cast a vote that would have authorized the expenditure of funds to mothball the house; that a majority of counsel — independent from the Mayor’s vote — is required to authorize the expenditure of funds. Thus, as I understood his explanation, the expenditure could have been made only if the vote was 4-2. However, assuming my understanding is correct, then how can the current vote (which is still 3-3 plus the Mayor’s vote) be sufficient to expend funds for demolition?

  24. Andy, I too take exception with comments that the city has taken no action. This is not a simple problem here. We’re talking about private property rights, not something that should ever be taken lightly. Yes, the owners have placed a burden of blight on our city for decades and put our city government in a difficult spot, but when you wade into the business of taking action on someone’s private property, caution must be taken. And it has been. As I said last night, I may be a tea party type, but I do love victorian era homes and local history and I am very sympathetic to those who didn’t want to see this part of our architectural history eliminated. However, sometimes we do have to bite the bullet for the greater good and move on. I think council and the mayor has done so. Maybe something miraculous can happen in the next 90 days to save it (i.e. the family finally gets serious about repairing it, selling it, etc.) but if the old home does get demolished, we will indeed move on and this incident will hardly be remembered 5 and 10 years from now. I know, either way, you guys can’t wait to get this off your plate.

  25. Rich, the Mayor breaking the tie to be 4-2 is because this was, basically, an administrative resolution. He was voting simply on the 30-60-Demo Plan – no money was being voted on at this time.

    He cannot, by City Charter, vote to break a tie on direct financial resolutions. The Council, not the Mayor, has “the control and management of fiscal and municipal affairs”.

    That is the fine line – administrative actions w/o funds he can break a tie….if there is money involved, the Mayor cannot.

    Interesting enough, if the Vice Mayor is the Acting Mayor (for whatever reason which is listed in the Charter), Andy retains the right to vote on ALL matters before the Council since technically, the Vice Mayor is first and foremost a Council Member by Charter definition.

  26. Jo Bauserman duke

    March 4, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    I am curious. The Natl historic registry includes this house as of may 10 1988. What is the point of the registry if it carries no apparent weight to protect the property?

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