Marietta may re-gift house given to city by Wells Fargo

To rehab or not to rehab-that’s the question Marietta officials hope to answer soon about a century-old home at 412 Phillips St. that is being given to the city.

A Wells Fargo Bank in Iowa had the foreclosed property on the market for more than a year, but the house is in need of repairs and the bank has been unable to sell it.

“A Wells Fargo representative first contacted me in September and offered to donate the property to the city,” said Andy Coleman, Marietta’s director of development.

He took the offer to city council’s lands, buildings and parks committee, but members expressed some concern about the cost of upkeep and property maintenance if the bank’s offer was accepted.

The bank then offered to include $5,000 to help with the property maintenance.

“A local contractor who was asked to look at the property for the city said he had some concern for the condition of the house and suggested the structure should be razed,” he said. “There was also some concern for possible lead paint and asbestos inside the home.”

After learning that the property would likely have to be demolished, city council members decided to decline the bank’s offer, explaining that it would cost more than $5,000 for demolition of the home.

Coleman said Wells Fargo then offered to give the property to the city with an additional $20,000 to pay for demolition.

He informed the lands, buildings and parks committee about the bank’s second offer, but some of the members wanted to see if the house could be saved and possibly renovated by Washington County Habitat for Humanity to provide housing for a local family.

Coleman once again contacted the bank and was told the house and $20,000 could still be donated to the city as long as the money would be used for demolition or to rehab the house.

Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, who chairs the lands, buildings and parks committee, is planning a walk-through within the next week or so for a closer look at the home’s condition and to see if Habitat for Humanity might be interested in refurbishing the property.

“If the house is sound enough, it could be rebuilt,” he said. “That has been done by Habitat for Humanity in other cities. We’re not looking for a way to make money for the city, we’re looking at a way to help someone who may be in need of a home.”

But Noland said the only way to know if the house is worth saving is to go through it first, noting the contractor who recommended razing the structure had only been able to do a cursive review of the property from the outside and had not actually entered the house.

“All we need to do is a five-minute walk-through of the house. I can’t imagine not doing that. It’s just due diligence to see it before making a final decision,” said Councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward.

He said this could be an opportunity for the city to save some of its existing housing stock instead of tearing it down.

But neighbors like Teddy Downing, who lives in Morningside Apartments, directly across the street from the abandoned house, disagree.

“I think it should be torn down,” he said. “Especially if Wells Fargo is giving the city the money to tear it down.”

Don Lassiter lives on Ohio 676, but knew one of the former residents of the house and has been inside the home.

“It’s a real money pit. And the electrical wiring would be a problem,” he said. “It could be fixed up, but that’s going to take a lot of money.”

Crystal Goad and her three children have lived for a year in a remodeled home immediately next door to 412 Phillips. She, too, has seen the house from the inside.

“It’s pretty bad,” she said. “It needs to be torn down, but if Habitat could take it for someone who needs a home, that would be OK. But there would be a lot of work to do.”

Magnum Whipkey rents a home two doors down from the property.

“It would take some money to revamp it, but saving the house would be better than tearing it down,” he said.

City law director Paul Bertram III said the lands, buildings and parks committee will be discussing the property at its next meeting, scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday in the second floor conference room at 304 Putnam St.

Legislation to accept the offer from Wells Fargo Bank has already been introduced by city council, but council will also have to enact legislation to approve demolition or rehabilitation of the property.

“The title search is currently being done, and we want to try and close on the transfer by the end of this month,” Bertram said. “But there has to be an ultimate discussion about what council wants to do. The city has the ability to deal with slum and blighted properties by demolition or the property can be offered for sale.”

He said according to Ohio Revised Code the city cannot simply give away property it owns.

“We would have to advertise for bids if the property is sold,” Bertram said. “And the city is not in the business of rehabilitating property.”

But he noted the agreement for the property donation from Wells Fargo requires the city to use the $20,000 to either demolish the house at 412 Phillips or the money can be used by the city to rehab the property.

Bertram said that would mean the city would have to go through a bidding process and hire a contractor to renovate the property. Then the property would have to go out for bid again to be sold.

If the Phillips Street home is demolished, the land on which the house sits would be sold by the city.

Dennis Thomas, director of Washington County Habitat for Humanity, did not return phone calls seeking comment.