A request to demolish a 152-year-old home in downtown Warren took an odd turn Tuesday night, when a town council member said Warren’s building inspector gave out misinformation about the process to the applicant.
Cathie Tattrie said that she’s known for months that the Wilbur Romano Funeral Home wanted to tear down a home at 613 Main St., a plan that has caused criticism from preservationists and even a member of the funeral home’s founding family.
During informal talk about the proposal at a meeting Tuesday night, Ms. Tattrie said she wanted the council to set a required public hearing on the matter for October because the applicants were anxious to move ahead with the demolition.
They’d been given false information by inspector Bill Nash, she said, that caused them to incorrectly believe the demolition was a simple, quick process. In actuality, houses in the waterfront historic district must have a “demolition waiver” approved by the council before the wrecking ball can be used, and that requires a public hearing.
“My concern is that they applied quite a while ago, and made their intention very well known, and they were very shocked to not be able to demolish it,” said Ms. Tattrie. “So we got them on tonight’s docket so that they could come back before us in October and not wait a full month.
“I just feel badly because I think I was given wrong information,” said Ms. Tattrie, who owns the Smith Mason Funeral Home on Schoolhouse Road.
The insinuation seemed to rankle Warren Town Manager Tom Gordon, who interjected and said Mr. Nash should be able to rebut Ms. Tattrie’s statement. Mr. Nash agreed and said he wanted to set the record straight.
“The permit (request for demolition) was dropped in my office last Wednesday,” he said. “I had communication with someone from the demo company maybe a month a go, and I was very clear with them that they needed a demo waiver from the council prior to getting a permit.
In the end, councilors voted to hold a public hearing on the matter on Monday, Oct. 15, the same date as a special Financial Town Meeting being held to give voters a say on the proposed sale of the Main Street School.
The demolition plan has drawn criticism from many circles in Warren since word of it leaked out earlier this week. The funeral home, owned by Service Corporation International of Houston, Texas, wants to demolish the old home to make way for a small parking lot. Also, a home official told the council Tuesday that the house was trashed by recent tenants and is beyond repair.
“Our main thing is to clean the property up, to prepare all new landscaping in front, and just to make the town look better and make the property look better.”
Opponents say they’re against the demolition of an old home in the historic district to make way for a parking lot.
“The last thing we need is more parking,” said Steve Thompson, a member of both the Warren Preservation Society and the town’s Voluntary Historic District Commission. ”You can’t replace an 1850 building once it’s gone and this town has already lost way too much of its history.”
One of the most passionate critics to surface so far is Ray Romano, whose family built the funeral home in 1920. Since 2006 the home has been a holding of Service Corporation International, and Mr. Romano left the business last year after an injury. He said before Tuesday’s meeting that he was sad to leave an avocation he loved, and he is also sad to hear of the building’s possible loss.
“I don’t want people to think I’m opposed just because I don’t work there anymore,” he said. “It’s more for sentimental reasons. I just can’t visualize the property without it there. It seems like it would take away a big piece of Main Street.”
Normally, razing a building wouldn’t require town council approval. But the old house lies within the Warren Waterfront Historic District, and as such must meet certain criteria before approval is given to demolish it. Town ordinances allow the town council to give the owners a demo waiver if one of the follow conditions exists:
1. Keeping the building would constitute a hazard to public safety.
2. Preservation would cause undue or unreasonable financial hardship to the owner.
3. Preservation would not be in the best interest of the community.
Though town records list the home as dating to 1860, research done by Mr. Thompson suggests it could date back another decade, to 1850. It was originally owned by a JD Tuell, who owned a copper foundry at the corner of Wheaton and Water streets.