A vacant and dilapidated two-story Victorian house at 7 W. Woolman St. that was the subject of a two-year historic-preservation dispute was demolished Friday.
The action came despite the protests of a neighboring property owner who said his concerns for the safety of his house were disregarded.
The house, one of Butte's oldest, was built on ground that was once part of the Original Mine yard. It was one of three original historic houses on the block, just west of North Main Street. It has been owned for some years by Tom Regan, who has been trying for two years to get a permit to demolish it.
The house next door, 15 W. Woolman, was purchased in 2009 and restored by Robert Renouard, an architect and member of a longtime Butte family who now lives in Seattle and works for the King County, Washington, planning department.
Renouard bemoaned the fact that the house next to his had been allowed to fall into disrepair but maintained that it could have been restored.
But Butte-Silver Bow Historical Preservation Officer Mary McCormick disagreed Friday. "Seeing a building with such a great history come down is so very sad. After 30 years of neglect, however, it could not be saved."
Renouard said he was particularly worried about the effect of the demolition on the stability of his house, since "due to the neglect," the soil between the houses was very soft and he has been forced to buttress the east wall of his house.
The tear-down was complete Friday afternoon, although the debris of the house remained on the lot. The west foundation wall — the one closest to Renouard's house — was left intact, and County Public Works Director Dave Schultz said the demolition plan was to compact the soil on the lot toward that wall so that it would remain stable. There was no visible damage to Renouard's house Friday.
Schultz and Planning Director Jon Sesso both said that Butte-Silver Bow building official Mike Nasheim went far beyond what was usually required for such a demolition by requiring Regan to take out liability insurance so that if some damage to Renouard's house occurred during the demolition, it would be covered.
Renouard objected to the hand-written demolition plan Regan submitted, calling it "vague scribbles with no technical information whatsoever."
McCormick said, "Certainly the demolition plan isn’t a formal-looking document. I know, however, that Mike Nasheim was very diligent in his review and worked with the contractor directly to address potential concerns. Additionally, he put time and effort into ensuring that the contractor had the appropriate insurance in place. Mike takes his responsibilities seriously, including strict and consistent adherence to municipal codes."
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"There's only so far we want to go into a dispute between neighbors," Sesso said. "Mr. Renouard was not going to be satisfied regardless of what he was given. But we made clear to Mr. Regan that all eyes would be on this. ... Mike (Nasheim) did everything he could, without the cooperation of the neighboring property owner, to assure this demolition would be done efficiently and without harm to the adjacent property. And we made sure the insurance was there.
"Even the car Mr. Renouard won't move was protected to the extent that any damage to it from the demolition would be covered."
In an email on which Renouard was copied, Nasheim wrote Friday, "After more than two weeks of gathering and verifying materials I ... interpreted that the information received by the Butte-Silver Bow Building Department is adequate to allow this demolition to be completed."
Chief Executive Matt Vincent said he had met with Renouard over his concerns previously but that he had faith in the work of Nasheim, Schultz and McCormick. "That's what we pay them for," he said. "I wish we could have found a way to do something better. I don't think you're going to find anyone who wouldn't have hoped for more from that property, but ... in that condition, it was a public safety hazard, much more of a threat standing than it is now."
In a letter to the county a year ago, Renouard accused Regan of deliberately letting the property "rot so its value as a contributing historic structure would be moot."
Reached Friday in Seattle, Renouard said he was very shaken by the demolition.
"We love Butte, and we love our house," he said.
He said he is very concerned that problems from the neighboring property will continue to impact his house. "My east wall has begun to pull away over the last few years, I believe due to water issues from the adjacent house," he said. Now I'm told everything is okay. It's so willy-nilly. What were the requirements? How much compaction will there be? I'm an architect, and I know these details matter.
"The county allowed all this without proper documentation. They're more interested in helping him than they are in helping me, when I'm trying to be a responsible property owner."
He said that he "would consider" buying the vacant lot but didn't know if that would turn out to be possible.
"When you have three historic houses left on a block, and one of them is taken, you lose much more than a third of what was there."