For those interested in the facts regarding the county-owned property known as Pirates Wharf, I offer the following information.
The property was acquired in 1997 utilizing Maryland Project Open Space acquisition funds. Open Space funds are derived from the state’s portion of real estate transfer taxes.
No property taxes or income taxes from the state or county general revenue funds are involved.
As the name implies, Project Open Space Funds are used to preserve natural lands, waters and habitats and to maximize outdoor recreational activities for citizens. The Pirates Wharf property was an ideal candidate, as its acquisition protected waterfront property, protected the environment and presented a good site for light impact outdoor activities.
As required by Open Space protocol, the property was purchased at its appraised fair market value. That market value included the value of potential timber harvests.
In large part, because of state fiscal issues and the deep recession, Open Space funding has been restricted and the availability of funds for improvements has been limited. For that reason, the property has been left in its natural state and leased for farming and hunting activities.
The farmhouse was leased to a tenant. The main section of the house was built in 1947, with additions made in the mid 1950s. It was neither historic nor architecturally significant.
When I came into office in December 2014, one of my main priorities was to address the deterioration of county property and other assets. The historic courthouse is a prime example and plans are now in place to restore it.
When I visited Pirates Wharf, I was appalled at the condition of the house, its outbuildings and surrounding grounds. Portions of the main floor had partially collapsed and was lying on the ground.
An amateurish attempt to protect the residence interior had been made by placing a tarp over the flooring. I immediately requested a complete assessment of the structure by our Code Enforcement Officer.
That assessment concluded that the house was not safe for occupancy and estimated restoration costs of several hundred thousand dollars. Not only were those funds not available, but I saw no utility to the structure that warranted that kind of expenditure.
In addition, I requested an inspection and opinion from the Wicomico Preservation Trust, recognized as an expert in the field of historic properties, who concurred that the home was of no of historic or architectural significance. For those reasons I felt it was the best course of action to remove it as it was a detriment to the property and unsafe.
Before proceeding, I invited members of the County Council, in writing, to visit the property so that they could see its condition themselves and understand my rationale.
Only Councilmen John Hall and Joe Holloway responded and both concurred with my evaluation. I proceeded with removing the house, the dilapidated outbuildings, clearing overgrown vegetation, surveying and marking grave sites and seeding the disturbed areas.
Moving forward I am working with MDE and DNR on a plan to restore the shoreline, which is experiencing significant erosion because of natural causes and a very sharp turn in the channel that requires barges and tugs to maneuver close to the shoreline.
My hope is that, despite the rhetoric you have read elsewhere, you as county citizens will realize that we have proceeded reasonably and with our citizens’ best interest in mind.
Bob Culver is County Executive of Wicomico County.