Town council meeting dominated by complaints about historic building efforts, personal clashes

by Trish Rudder

The Town of Bath council meeting on November 22 was crowded with people who came to hear David Abruzzi, the former president of the town’s Historic Landmarks Commission, who was on the meeting’s agenda.

Mayor Scott Merki opened the meeting acknowledging that a lot of people were there. He said to those who wanted to speak, that they would only be allowed three minutes each.

Merki said the dissension should be solved peacefully, and alluded to a dispute over a proposed logo being drafted by the local tourism board.

Abruzzi read a statement to council, saying that said he represents a group of stakeholders comprised of town residents, property owners and business owners who believe in historic preservation.

“And because in the past the town council has fallen short as a Certified Local Government to protect and preserve the Town of Bath Historic District,” he said.

Abruzzi said he started Cacapon Preservation Solutions,  a small veteran-owned business focused on historic preservation.

He said that the town has failed to protect and preserve many of the contributing structures in town.

“On behalf of those stakeholders, who are my clients as well as your constituents, I am here to work with you, the various committees, and the Historic Landmarks Commission to meet the requirements to protect and preserve the Town of Bath Historic District for the benefit of current and future generations.”

Abruzzi then spoke of the requirements from the Department of Interior’s National Park Service for a Certified Local Government (CLG), which the Town of Bath is.

“Certified Local Governments (CLGs) are all required to make a written, legal commitment to protect and designate a community’s irreplaceable historic properties in accordance with state and local laws,” say documents from the Department of Interior.

Abruzzi said the town has not met the CLG standards. And the town is not in compliance with SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) and National Park Service guidelines.

“I don’t think we are not in compliance, but I will check and talk to people, and if we aren’t, we will figure out what we have to do,” Mayor Merki said.

Merki said the town has a Historic Landmarks Commission now and “we will come up with a plan. We are not going to do COAs,” (Certificates of Appropriateness) – our lawyer advised against it.”

“I did not mention COAs, but a lot can be done without COAs,” Abruzzi answered.

“The residents were denied the right to vote on that,” Abruzzi said.

Town Recorder, Susan Webster said “council has the right.”

“We control this town. We are the governing body of this town,” Merki replied.

“We have a HLC now and we don’t want to infringe on people’s rights.  We are not going to have people coming in and telling them what color paint and what kind of windows, and 90% of the community would agree with me. They do not want to be told how they maintain their property they paid for and bought,” Merki said heatedly.

“You have my commitment as the mayor now that we will do everything we can to preserve structures in this community,” Merki said to Abruzzi.

Merki said the people want to preserve the town – “we have a great group of people in this community,” he said.

Abruzzi said a Certified Local Government has a set of rules. The town can do this on their own, but it will not be a CLG, he said.

Abruzzi said the town can decertify, “and you will never see me again,” he said to Merki.

“We will not force people to spend more money. I don’t want people telling me what to do with my house,” Merki said.

Abruzzi said later that 23 people “want me to do what I’m doing,” to preserve their structures and preserve this district. He said he has a business license to work with Town of Bath clients.

Mayor Merki then opened the meeting to those wanting to speak with “no bickering or fighting,” he said.

Several property owners and residents used their three minutes to speak and mainly spoke against Abruzzi’s historic preservation viewpoints.

Others brought up a dispute over images on a proposed decal being designed by Travel Berkeley Springs. Members of TBS had reportedly clashed over the meaning of different symbols as they discussed what the TBS sticker might look like. That dispute flowed over into private business dealings, and was referenced in the Town of Bath meeting.

Merki said he had not seen the new design and the town does not regulate TBS decision making