Board denies county appeal on buildings

Published 11:04 am Thursday, December 11, 2014

If Warren County officials want clearance to raze two buildings the county owns on Adams Street, they’ll have to get it from a judge.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Wednesday voted 3-0 to uphold a decision by the city’s Board of Architectural Review in October that denied the county’s request to raze the buildings it owns at 1015 and 1019 Adams St., which are located in the city’s historic district. It means county officials will have to go to court to get their permit, starting with chancery court.

“We’re disappointed the board didn’t go along with our wishes,” Board of Supervisors president Bill Lauderdale said. He would not say whether the county would appeal the decision, adding the supervisors would probably discuss the matter when they meet Monday.

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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.

Both buildings are in the city’s Grove Street-Jackson Street National Register Historic District and are protected under the city’s historic preservation ordinance, but have been allowed by the county to deteriorate.

According to a letter sent earlier this year to the county from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 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 Board of Architectural Review in April and again in October denied the county’s petition for what is called a certificate of appropriateness that would allow the county to raze the buildings. At one point between the April and October hearings, the county asked for a 60-day extension to develop plans to repair the buildings, and Mayor George Flaggs Jr. attempted to work out a compromise to protect the buildings.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Dec. 8 held an appeal hearing on the county’s request and took the matter under advisement until Wednesday.

“I think we went beyond the call of duty to try to work with the county and worked (to find) a resolution in this matter,” Flaggs said before the board’s vote Wednesday. “It is with some regret that we cannot resolve this, but at the same time, it is incumbent upon us to enforce our ordinances if we’re going to have them on the books.”

Flaggs still held out hope for a solution to save the houses without having to go to court.

“I just believe the taxpayer benefits when we don’t spend taxpayers dollars in court,” he said.

“As far as us considering the county’s request, I think we would be going against our own ordinance, and in order to conserve and rehabilitate and restore and maintain the integrity of our historic district, we need to uphold the things that are highlighted (in the ordinance) to maintain it,” South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson said.

The fate of both buildings has been debated by city and county officials since 2004, the year the Verhine building was bought. In 2004 and 2005, the county sought to raze the buildings. The board put a 150-day stay on each request, but the county took no action.

The county bought the old justice court building in 1984, to be home to its three justice court judges. The judges were moved to 921 Farmer St. in 2002, and the building essentially became a storage bin.

County buildings and grounds director Chuck Thornton said the county bought the Verhine building for about $46,000, adding it was in a dilapidated state when the county bought it, but did not know how much the county paid for the old justice court building.

At the April and October hearings county officials said they bought the buildings to tear them down.


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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