City wants to discuss county’s plans for dilapidated buildings

Published 11:25 am Monday, July 28, 2014

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen tabled a request by the Warren County Board of Supervisors seeking a 60-day extension involving the fate of two county-owned buildings on Adams Street until the two boards can meet to discuss the county’s plans for the structures.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the stay after discussing the buildings at a meeting Friday. The Board of Architectural Review in April denied the county’s request to demolish the buildings and ordered the county to prepare a rehabilitation plan for the buildings within 60 days. The county’s request for the extension was made in a letter to Community Development Director Victor Grey-Lewis.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. recommended delaying action on the request and meeting with the county.

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“Nobody from the Board of Supervisors has said anything to me about additional time,” Flaggs said. “Right now, I’m reluctant to give them additional time until they come before this board and express to us their intentions. We have just as much right to hold government responsible if we hold citizens responsible.

“We’ll call a special meeting where they come before us and express what they want to do,” he said. “We cannot allow one government authority (to not follow city code) and insist on an every day citizen, the little man, to bring their house up (to code). I’m going to be consistent.”

The buildings in question are the county’s former justice court building at 1019 Adams St. and an adjacent house at 1015 Adams that at one time served as a law office. Both buildings are in Vicksburg’s Historic District and are due east and behind the Warren County Courthouse. County officials said in April the buildings had fallen into disrepair.

When the Board of Architectural Review denied the county’s request to raze the buildings, several board members severely criticized Board of Supervisors President Bill Lauderdale and Chuck Thornton, county buildings and grounds superintendent, for failing to maintain the buildings.

That April hearing was not the first time the buildings came before the Board of Architectural Review. The board in 2004 and 2005 issued three 180-day stays of demolition as it waited for a plan of action by the county to either renovate, sell, lease or raze the buildings

The county in May received the letter from Gray-Lewis giving the board 60 days to develop the rehabilitation plan for the building with a schedule for completion. The county’s response to Grey-Lewis requesting an extension was dated July 15.

“The plan for the buildings has always been to demolish them,” Lauderdale said Friday afternoon.

He said the supervisors wanted the extension to examine state law and see what the county can do with the property. Concerning other plans for the building, he said, “I can’t do anything without the approval of the board.”
Lauderdale said the county bought the buildings in anticipation of possible expansion of county government. “Property is hard to come by, so when we found two pieces of property adjacent to the courthouse, we bought them,” he said.

He said he had not been contacted by the city about meeting. “We’ll just have to wait and see what they want,” he said.

Built in the 1870s as a house, the brick, yellow-trimmed former courthouse at 1019 Adams St. was once a law office of John Prewitt before he became a circuit judge. The county bought the building in 1984 to be home to its three justice court districts. The judges were moved to 921 Farmer St. in 2002, and the building essentially became a storage bin.

The smaller house was built in the 1890s and was home to Verhine & Verhine law firm from 1991 to 2012, according to city directories.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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