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Commission presses charges

NATCHEZ — The owner of Arlington is facing misdemeanor charges and the owner of the former First Baptist Church on Main Street has 60 days before charges are pressed against her.

The Natchez Preservation Commission voted Wednesday night to move forward with the proceedings of demolition by neglect — the final step involving legal actions.

Both historic properties had been sitting vacant and untouched for months when the commission declared demolition by neglect on both buildings.

For a building to receive such a declaration, it must be demolishing itself from overexposure to the elements of wind and rain.

The declaration was made in July and letters were sent to both owners. In both letters, Building Inspector Paul Dawes had detailed what was causing the demolition.

No response came after the July letters were sent, so two more letters were mailed in September.

The owners had 30 days to commence work to comply with the issues after the letters were sent and if not, the preservation commission would have a public hearing to determine whether to press charges.

In the demolition by neglect proceedings, the owners of the declared buildings are allowed a rebuttal and a chance to prevent charges from being pressed during the public hearing.

At the hearing on Wednesday, owner of Arlington Dr. Tom Vaughan did not appear to plead his case and the commission voted unanimously to press charges.

Judith Weatherly, developer with Dream Homes Inc., in Marrero, La., did appear before the commission and cited investor problems as her reason for delinquency.

Her former investor, of New Orleans, pulled out of her plans to convert the church into luxury condominiums, when he heard the building had been declared demolition by neglect, Weatherly said.

She then found an investor in local antique storeowner Jimmy Pippen and plans moved rapidly forward, she said.

“And then, of course, Jimmy passed away,” Weatherly said.

Finally, Weatherly paired up with John Peterson, who recently developed Belle Nouveau Salon and Spa at 409 Franklin St.

Now that the investor was lined up, Weatherly said plans would be submitted soon and the project would move forward.

But that wasn’t good enough for the commission.

Commission Chairman Marty Seibert said the issue of the dilapidated building literally falling apart needed immediate attention.

She said she’s received multiple calls at home from residents that are fearful of the building’s state.

“They’re afraid it’s going to fall on them,” Seibert said. “This is a hazard to the people walking on the street and the people living around it; it’s not just a historic building being demolished.”

One of the primary means by which the elements are deteriorating the building is through the collapsing roof, Dawes said.

Peterson said the roof could be repaired and the building covered within 90 days.

But Weatherly said she wants to leave part of the roof open for an atrium and that cannot be completed within 90 days and City Planner John “Rusty” Lewis agreed, at which point the discussion dissolved into architectural and engineering musings.

Commissioner Tom Middleton stated that the hearing is not to discuss those details.

“In this particular case, we’ve sat back and let a building deteriorate,” he said. “When we talk about putting on a new roof, I just can’t get beyond the ivy, and poison ivy and grass growing on that building.”

He questioned how and why the building has gotten to its current state and what can be done to halt it.

But the board voted ultimately to not do anything to halt the demolition.

Commissioner Tony D’Angelis made a motion to give Weatherly 60 days to present to the commission viable project plans and an actual construction start date.

The motion passed 5-1, the lone dissenting vote belonging to Middleton.

Weatherly must appear before the commission at their regular meeting January or charges will be pressed.