Board delays action on Chapel Hill historic house demolition

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMarch 14, 2014 

— A town commission won’t decide for a few weeks whether a couple has to wait a year to demolish a house in one of Chapel Hill’s oldest historic districts.

Although 704 Gimghoul Road is included in the Gimghoul Historic District’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places, it can be demolished. The town’s Historic District Commission only can delay the plans for up to a year while negotiating with the owners.

Most members wanted to know Thursday if the new owners, Tanner and Mimi Hock, had sought other options, including selling the house to someone who could restore it. Commission member Martin Rody suggested gutting the house and rebuilding it or building a similar replacement.

The commission voted 8-1 Thursday night that it didn’t have enough information to decide without a structural engineer’s report, due soon. Chairman Joseph Reckford excused himself from the vote because of comments he made in an earlier Chapel Hill News article.

Mimi Hock said she and her husband learned former owners Robert and Shirley Bacon wanted to sell the house. The Hocks paid $635,000 for it in December 2012, but let the Bacons continue living in the house until they moved in October.

The Bacons, who are in their 80s, now live near a daughter in Maine. Bob Bacon said by phone last week they had paid the Hocks nearly $3,500 a month in rent and property taxes to stay in the home. They also had to remove and clean up an old oil tank that was buried in the yard, he said.

The Bacons made many repairs over the years, but his wife’s declining health had made it hard to keep up the last few years, he said. However, he was surprised when someone called to say the house might be torn down.

“(The Hocks) always talked of fixing it up,” he said.

The late 1920s house is one of three pre-1932 homes that remain largely unchanged, said John Sweet, a UNC professor of American history. Six other houses have had extra rooms added on over the years, mostly in the rear, he said.

“They create a remarkable and distinctive neighborhood that has great charm and character, taken over time,” he said.

Cheri Szcodronski, executive director of Preservation Chapel Hill, has asked the Hocks to save the house or at least let her staff document its history and style. Mimi Hock said they also might give away a stone cottage out back – said to be actor Andy Griffith’s home as a UNC student.

The house is largely “beyond rehabilitation,” making restoration impractical, said Leon Meyers, of LE Meyers Builders.

A big problem is the gutters, which are built into the roofline and have leaked into the house, he said. The roof, including the structure, the chimney flashing, and parts of ceilings and walls would have to be replaced, he said.

The house also has old wiring and steam-heating ducts that contain asbestos to remove, among other issues, he said.

“It hasn’t received the care and maintenance that it needed to survive in good condition for many years,” he said.

Mimi Hock said they were aware the home had some issues, but the full extent wasn’t clear until later. Plans for a new home in the same spot showed it as a half-story shorter and narrower in width, with a long wing down the rear, eastern side of the lot.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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