I had planned to write this after the new CVS retail store being built in Charles Town was finished and the changes to the downtown streetscape were better understood. Folks would see the actual façade of the store and the context of how it all fit into downtown. Recent events in which a Charles Town city employee was verbally abused by a party unhappy with the CVS project compels me to write this now rather than wait. The city employee, whose only offense was doing her job, was verbally assaulted and then made to feel worse by the abusive letter being widely forwarded and published online.
I was present and participated at all of the meetings in which decisions were made regarding the CVS project. Because I heard all the discussions, I am in a position to understand how many of the decisions were made. I remind all citizens that the West Virginia sunshine laws make all of these meetings public and sadly, more often than not, no citizens are present. I invite all those with an interest to attend City Council meetings on the first and third Monday of each month; Charles Town Historic Landmarks Commission meets the second Monday of every month; the Charles Town Planning Commission meets the fourth Monday of every month.
It is important to remember that the real estate involved in the CVS project has been for sale off and on for many years and those with a desire to buy and restore the structures had ample opportunity to buy them at fair market value. The property owner made no secret of his desire to sell the real estate.
Enter CVS. The CVS project required a number of city bodies to consider different aspects of the project. It is true that the first proposed building was the suburban-style structure that has been widely circulated. The façade selected, with the help of the Historic Landmarks Commission, bears no resemblance to the original design. The final design is a two-story brick façade with dentil cornice molding that is reminiscent of other structures on Washington Street. The second story is decorative only but makes the façade more compatible with the rest of downtown. I have watched with interest as the brick and mortar masonry walls were being built this week. I should point out that the walls are real brick and mortar construction and not a brick veneer over lesser materials. Unfortunately, it appears that most of the people circulating the suburban-style store pictures either knew the picture was not representative of the final design or were uninformed regarding the design. I can only imagine their intentions if they were aware of the more appropriate compromise.
The razing of the structures did require the Charles Town Historic Landmarks Commission vote. It was not a decision made lightly and many factors were considered. The meeting was open to the public and all discussion was conducted in public.
The condition of structures and the fact that they were all highly modified from their original construction was a part of the decision to raze them. In the final vote, all but one member of the commission agreed to raze the subject structures. The structure built by Revolutionary War Capt. William Cherry was one of the structures that gave me the most pause. Ultimately, because of its very poor condition and highly modified state, I voted with the majority. I should note that Captain Cherry’s log home still stands nearby in the shadow of the new construction.
The placement of the CVS building back from the street was one that involved a great deal of deliberation both at the Planning Commission and City Council levels. What has been lost in all of the discussions is the fact that the corner property was a former gas station whose tanks had leaked toxins into the soil. While the tanks were empty, the removal of them required Environmental Protection Agency oversight and mitigation of the hazardous material. CVS is removing the tanks and complying with all EPA requirements. One of the reasons for the setback was to allow outgassing of the hydrocarbons. The outgassing prevented the store from being located directly above the plume. This alone is something that most potential buyers would not have had the funds to address. This investment by CVS speaks volumes to me.
Because the setback and front parking lot was generally considered visually less desirable, the architects agreed to a decorative hedge to conceal it. CVS made many concessions to the city. I wish that very resident in our city had the opportunity to have heard all of the discussions. There would be far less misinformation had every person had this opportunity.
This brings me to the unfortunate abuse of the city employee. Attached to the caustic letter was a photo of the log structure. What was missing was a photo of the flat bed truck on which the logs were being loaded. The logs were all preserved to be rebuilt on a different site. In fact, the log structure was preserved, a fact that was lost on the self-appointed expert who distributed the photo. The evidence that what Captain Cherry built was a tiny single story structure that was now highly modified. Clearly visible in the photo were the modifications. First visible was where the original cook hearth had been, long ago removed when the original 1785 structure received its first of many significant modifications. The second story and rear portions were all later additions, all made likely between 1810-1820. The masonry extant was added in the 1810 period modification, the original cooking hearth apparently was removed at that time. The original mantels were long gone. The windows were all from the second half of the 19th century. The exterior doors date from the 20th century. So when one looks at this highly modified house, just what was it that these folks were seeking to preserve? The current building owner preserved the logs and they will be rebuilt.
If I had a wish, it would be that the energy of these “well-meaning” folks would be spent on preserving the structures that can be preserved in our fair city. Within one block of the new construction is a vacant log structure that begs for attention. Far less known are two other homes extremely close to the site, which still have magnificent interior woodwork from their original construction. These are wonderful examples of our earliest architecture. One has a mantle and matching built-in fluted pilasters and decorative medallions, as fine as anything shown in john Allen’s book “Uncommon Vernacular.” I am in awe when I see appointments of this caliber that have survived more than 200 years. Let’s make this energy and focus on structures that really do enhance the historic nature of Charles Town.
In closing, I ask but one thing. Please do not direct frustration at city employees. They are doing their jobs. Feel free to vent to elected officials, like me. I am Mark Reinhart, City Councilman, Ward 1.