Architectural Review Board delays decision on Eats Stand demolition

The Strasburg Fire Department's "Eats Stand" on Strasburg's town lot is under review and may be torn down to make way for parking lot improvements. Box Office Brewery, located on the left, is scheduled to open in September. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG — Strasburg’s Architectural Review Board has delayed a discussion on whether it will approve the demolition of the “Eats Stand” in the town’s downtown parking lot after members failed to come to a consensus.

During their meeting on Thursday, two members voted to oppose the demolition of the building, while two other members voted in favor of the demolition. One member, Bobbie Poling, abstained.

The Architectural Review Board’s decision will have it convening for a special meeting prior to its regularly scheduled monthly meeting. Town Manager Wyatt Pearson said that he hopes to schedule the meeting for sometime next week.

In the meantime, Pearson is set to come up with an estimate of how much it would cost the town to bring the building up to code. During the meeting, Poling said that she had concerns about how safe the building currently is.

“The public health department may have a problem with [the building] now because it’s so disintegrated,” Poling said. “The electrical, it’s scary, because you don’t see anything to just plug in, and it doesn’t look safe.”

This is a preliminary concept of proposed changes to Strasburg's town lot provided by town officials. The parking lot now offers 43 spaces and town officials hope to increase the number of spaces to near 60 while continuing to include the carnival area part of the design. Courtesy graphic

Meanwhile, Linda Wheeler, a member of the board who voted in opposition of the demolition, expressed the possibility that the town could maintain the building rather than demolish it.

“There are so many, in my mind, pluses in keeping it and letting the town maintain it or getting together a friends group and we can all maintain it or whatever needs to be done,” Wheeler said. “I think of it as an integral part of the experience of downtown Strasburg.”

During the meeting, people who opposed the demolition said that the stand has a value in the nostalgia and memories that it brings to residents. For instance, Cindy Avvenire, a resident who spoke during the meeting’s public comment period, said that the building is “culturally significant” for her and her mom, who has dementia.

“When we went to Mayfest and we told her we were going, she wanted to go so bad but we wouldn’t take her,” Avvenire said. “She said, ‘You bring me a Fire Department hamburger.’ And it was just like that: ‘You bring me a Fire Department hamburger.'”

Avvenire said that the building makes a difference for her mom and for other people in the community like her.

In order to demolish the building, the town will first have to perform asbestos abatement on it. The town has estimated that the process will cost around $3,000, but Pearson said during Thursday’s meeting that he will firm up that estimate prior to the special meeting.

The town will not receive a complete estimate of the cost of the demolition because town staff plans on self-performing the demolition. Town staff only provides cost estimates on work that it bills for.

Whether any of these new cost estimates will affect the review board’s decision is unknown. But there are other factors that could affect its end decision.

The Architectural Review Board has six members, and one of those members, Fred Keefe, was not present.

And Poling decided to abstain because she is a member of the Lions Club, which uses the stand for its annual carnival fundraiser, although she was not required under law to abstain. Under Virginia conflict of interest law, members only have to abstain from decisions if they or their immediate family have a financial interest in the decision.

After the meeting drew to a close, Pearson and Mayor Rich Orndorff told Poling that she could have voted on the decision. Poling told Orndorff that she plans to vote on it when the issue comes up again.

The Architectural Review Board’s decision came after the Strasburg Town Council unanimously decided to have the stand demolished. Town Council made its decision contingent on the town having approval from the Architectural Review Board and from outside agencies. Those agencies have to review the demolition because the stand is on the parking lot, which is part of the town’s community development block grant project.

During a Wednesday Strasburg Town Council work session, Milton Painter, the interim president for the Fire Department, said that the stand is only used between seven and 10 days each year. With that infrequent use, he argued, it doesn’t make sense for the Fire Department to continue having to maintain the building.

The Fire Department itself only uses the stand during National Night Out and to cook sausages during its pancake breakfasts. The department does other cooking for the breakfasts and other fundraisers out of the fire station.

Painter said that the department could do all of its cooking out of the fire station.

Meanwhile, the Lions Club and Ruritan Club use the stand for their annual carnival. That fundraiser provides a majority of the funding for the local chapters of both groups.

During Wednesday’s work session, Jeff Racey, who deals with the carnival for the Lions Club, said that the Lions Club has particular health code regulations it has to follow that volunteer fire departments do not. That, he said, would potentially make it difficult for the club to continue its carnival fundraiser.

But Painter offered to have two carnivals, one in the fall and one in May, where the Fire Department would cook and sell food alongside the Lions Club and the Ruritan Club. Racey first suggested the possibility that the Lions Club and Ruritan Club could hold two carnivals every year to offset the potential financial losses they would incur from the demolition of the Eats Stand.