Experts to help decide fate of Libbey House

A local builder now knows what needs to be done to determine the future of a historic home he owns on North Main Street in Coupeville.

The town of Coupeville submitted a document Monday outlining the scope of an Environmental Impact Statement for the Joseph Libbey House.

Owner Ted Clifton, of Clifton View Homes, applied for a demolition permit for the Joseph Libbey House, which is a historic home that was built in 1870. Because of the impacts the demolition of a historic building would have on the community, town officials are requiring the drafting of an Environmental Impact Statement, which is an expensive and time-consuming process.

“It looks like what I expected,” Clifton said Tuesday, adding that he’s only scanned the scoping document he received Monday. “You have to address issues that concern the community.”

He is required to assemble a group of experts, including a structural engineer, historic architect, preservation specialist, rehabilitation/restoration contractor and a financial analyst.

Clifton said the first expert he’s going to tap is a structural engineer, who will help assess the home’s condition.

Clifton said the Libbey House is in such a state of disrepair that it can’t be safely occupied.

“The building has been let go for 40 to 50 years,” Clifton said.

Once the structural engineer determines the condition of the building, Clifton said that will affect the way the impact statement is formed.

He purchased the building in July 2008 with the hopes of rehabilitating the home and then selling or renting it. However, the building’s condition forced him to change his plans. However, his many critics in town say that as a builder, he should have been aware of the home’s condition before he acquired it.

The experts, approved by Town Planner Larry Kwarsick in consultation with the National Park Service and Ebey’s Landing, will look at possibly rehabilitating the home, either on its current site or at another spot in town; or whether the Libbey House can be integrated into plans for future development. There will also be a financial/legal analysis about whether rehabilitation would cause a financial hardship for Clifton.

The committee will also examine the cumulative impacts to the community of the precedent-setting demolition of the historic house.

“We’re very concerned about the cumulative impacts of demolishing an older structure,” Kwarsick said Tuesday morning.

Kwarsick also pointed out a provision in town code saying it’s unlawful to demolish a structure by neglect. Clifton has an obligation to maintain the building and ensure the building doesn’t get any worse. He also gave Clifton some regulations outlining the maintenance of historic structures.

Clifton wants to remove some siding from the Libbey House in order to get a better idea of the building’s condition.

Kwarsick however, is recommending that he wait until his team of experts is formed and he has a preservation specialist lined up. He said the consultants should meet with town officials so there’s a clear understanding of how the environmental impact statement will move forward.

He said the environmental process has to be completed before the demolition permit moves on to the Design Review Board. He said that process could be complete in two years at the earliest.

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