Board delays acting on county’s appeal on demolition

Published 11:31 am Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Warren County Board of Supervisors will have to wait 10 more days before learning whether it has the OK to demolish buildings it owns at 1015 and 1019 Adams St.

After nearly two hours of testimony that included a history lesson by local lawyer Lee Davis Thames Sr. on the 10-year controversy involving the county’s request to take them down, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 3-0 to take under advisement the county’s appeal of the Board of Architectural Review’s refusal to allow their demolition.

The Board of Architectural Review in October denied the county’s application to raze the buildings for the second time in six months and the fourth time in 10 years. The supervisors initially filed an application for demolition in April. They also sought to tear the buildings down in 2004 and 2005.

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Thames’ testimony occupied most of hearing, and included books he handed to the board members documenting the 10-year history of the county’s attempts to raze the buildings. During his comments, Thames told the board it needed to follow the city’s historic preservation ordinance, which sets the guidelines for tearing down buildings.

He said the county’s appeal was flawed because it did not specify why it was appealing the Board of Architectural Review’s decision. “You have to say more than ‘we appeal,’” he said.

Thames, who owns The Galleries, a house in Vicksburg on the National Register of Historic Places, urged the board to enforce the law and hold the county as accountable as any private citizen who wants to raze a building in the historic district.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield cited Thames’ presentation and comments from District 5 Supervisor Richard George for his decision to take the matter under advisement.

George said the county needs the property to expand and improve its buildings.

“As our community grows, our need grows for public service. Our court system is overwhelmed with criminal activity problems. Our facilities are overloaded and our parking is extremely limited,” George said.

He said the supervisors had no quarrel with historic districts, “but at the same time, we’re trying to serve the same people who are trying to protect the city of Vicksburg. We’re dealing with the history and the future … We also have serious concerns for the future of Warren County governmental services to be able to continue.”

“I want this board to take this under advisement for one simple reason, we have been presented a book by Mr. Thames which he said he did of his own doing, (and) Mr. George also made some statements from the Board of supervisors’ side. I think it behooves this board to sit down and look this and not be judgmental,” Mayfield said.

“If you guys (South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson and Mayor George Flaggs Jr.) are satisfied that we’ve heard what we need to hear tonight, I’m going to ask the two of you to join me in voting to take this under advisement for the purpose of finishing our homework (on the matter).”

Thompson agreed, adding, “in all fairness, we should look at both sides and take in all the information that has been given. I do believe that it’s our duty to uphold the law and that’s why we should review what’s given to us.”

Flaggs agreed to delay the decision, adding he would still like to see the city and county reach a compromise.

“I just refuse to believe that two boards, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Board of Supervisors, can’t come to a compromise for the benefit of the taxpayers,” he said. “I believe if we had more time … I believe that we can come to some reasonable conclusion so that we don’t have to spend taxpayers’ money fighting the case.”

Thames, however, challenged Flaggs’ call for compromise.

“You weren’t elected to be Solomon, you are elected to enforce the laws,” he said.

The fate of both buildings has been debated by city and county officials since 2004. Because they are in the city’s Grove Street-Jackson Street National Register Historic District both buildings are protected under the city’s historic preservation ordinance, but have been allowed to deteriorate.

County officials said they bought the Verhine building in 2002 and the old justice court building in 1984, but City Attorney Nancy Thomas presented deeds Monday that showed the county bought the Verhine building in 2004, and the old justice court buildings in 1982.

Known as the “old Verhine building,” the house at 1015 Adams St. was built in the 1890s and was home to Verhine & Verhine law firm from 1991 to 2002, according to city directories.

The county’s former justice court building at 1019 Adams St. was completed in the 1870s as a house and was once the law office of John Prewitt before he became a circuit judge.

County officials said at the April and October Board of Architectural Review hearings that they have planned to both buildings down for future use, but presented no plans or information on proposed projects.

According to a letter to the Board of Supervisors earlier this year from the MDAH, the Verhine building is a contributing resource to the National Historic Register District and eligible for designation as a Mississippi Landmark. Archives and History lists the old justice court building as a non-contributing resource to the same national district. Because the old justice court building is in the city’s historic district, however, it is protected under the city’s regulations.

The old justice court building was home to the county’s three justice court judges, who moved to 921 Farmer St. in 2002, and the building essentially became a storage bin.

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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