By Alex Bridges
MOUNT JACKSON - A town panel backed Holtman Corporation's plans to expand its headquarters building, and that also means razing a historic house.
The Planning Commission at its regular meeting Monday voted 7-0 to recommend that Town Council approve Holtzman's request for a special-use permit that the company needs in order to build new office space at 5522 Main St.
The commission held a public meeting and hearing jointly with members of the council present. No one spoke during the public hearing. The commission heard from Assistant Town Manager Charlie Moore and company owner and President Bill Holtzman about the permit request. Council members left after the commission held the public hearing. Town Council may take action on the permit request at its Jan. 14 meeting.
Holtzman's master site plan calls for the construction of a four-story building north of the existing offices. A two-story connection between the two buildings, set back and shielded with some trees, also contains offices.
Commission Chairwoman Bonnie Good voiced support for Holtzman's plans.
"I think it's going to be a very nice addition to the property and I hope you can use it for a long time to come," Good said during the hearing.
However, the company needs to demolish a house at the site for the building. Holtzman bought the lot and the so-called Nelson House, built in 1912, years ago, first in the hopes he'd use it for offices. Holtzman has tried for years to find a taker of the house. Gerald Forsburg, an urban planner with a background in architecture, led a recent effort to relocate the Nelson House to town-owned property on King Street, but ran out of time.
After the meeting, Forsburg commented that it appeared the commission members had made up their minds to support Holtzman's business plan.
Before the commission voted to make its recommendation, Good commented on the Nelson House issue. Good remarked that anyone who wanted to relocate the house had seven years to do so. She said the recent effort came too late.
"I applaud the idea of getting it done and I know that you were interested in it and thought that the building was going to be taken by somebody else," Good said. "But in driving past it every week for seven years and nothing happened I would think that maybe a phone call to say 'is it really going to be taken by somebody else' would've been a good way to follow up with your interest and I'm sorry that didn't happen but do think it's time to move on."
"I think that Mr. Holtzman has the right to go ahead, after all this time, and do what he needs to for his company," Good added.
However, later in the meeting, Good recommended to commission members that should anyone feel uncomfortable with voting on a matter directly following the related public hearing, the panel can table the item for further discussion.
The company had enquiries from three entities interested in the house -- Forsburg, Sonny Bowman and a group based in Pennsylvania - Holtzman said. Holtzman told the panel that he received a letter from Forsburg in February 2006. Bowman looked at moving the house to a lot he owned but found it would cost too much to move the power and fiber optic lines. The Pennsylvania company also declined.
Forsburg says he never heard back from Holtzman. When the company began removing windows from the house late last year, Forsburg, seeing that demolition was imminent, sought to save the house. Forsburg's effort gained support and he had devised a financing plan that involved raising money for the relocation and purchase of town-owned property on King Street. Forsburg said that the house could be eligible for tax credits, used to offset relocation costs, if it was moved to the King Street lot in the historic district.
Last month, with a few weeks left until Holtzman's Dec. 31 deadline, Town Council asked Forsburg to present a plan on how he would move the house.
Good questioned whether the house could be considered "historic." Forsburg explained that the house would be eligible for designation as a contributing structure in a historic district and thus would qualify for tax credits.
Forsburg expressed support at the meeting for Holtzman's plans and for private property rights in general.
Holtzman had to come back to the town for a new permit because much had changed over time, including the design of the building. Moore explained that town allows for such an office building on the business-zoned property with a master site plan and a permit. Moore said the original site plan, filed in 2007, has been amended several times. While the entire complex would need about 170 spaces, Moore said the design calls for about 220 spaces. The additional parking was not included in the original design and, in the years since the plan was first approved, regulations on parking and other elements have changed, Moore said.
The biggest change in the plan was turning the four-story building 90 degrees. Holtzman also tried to have the building designed in the style of the historic Wythe House.
"In essence, we did this a couple of years ago and got it approved," Holtzman said. "But, the more I looked at, the uglier it got," Holtzman said.
Additionally, Holtzman said turning the structure now gives the company an extra 29 feet in the rear of the building for expansion. Holtzman said they expect to fill the first two floors once the building is finished. The top two floors will be for future growth.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com