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Former First Baptist Church developer might be charged

NATCHEZ — The developer of the former First Baptist Church has lost her third investor and will soon be facing charges for demolition by neglect.

Judy Weatherly last appeared before the Natchez Preservation Commission two months ago, and was given 60 days to present comprehensive plans to the board.

Weatherly brought with her developer John Peterson who has, with his son Ben, developed a spa and soon-to-be condominiums at 409 Franklin St.

“At the meeting two months ago, the very capable John Peterson appeared at the meeting with her,” City Planner John “Rusty” Lewis said. “At that point, he was interested in the project, so he offered up some credence to the concept of waiting 60 days.”

The preservation commission has been going back and forth on the development with Weatherly on the project since it’s inception.

Since Weatherly’s purchase of the building in September 2007, the commission has issued stop work orders on illegal removal of rain gutters and stained glass windows. But at the last meeting in which Weatherly appeared, the commission stated it was still willing to work with Weatherly.

Lewis said the plans the commission requested were key to moving the project forward and gaining the commission’s trust.

“It would give us some understanding of where she was going and that it was real and not puffery,” he said.

Weatherly did not appear before the commission with plans this week, and the Petersons submitted a letter to the commission stating they were backing out.

John Peterson said in the case of the development, the ends don’t justify the means.

“We did our due diligence,” he said. “We did an appraisal, evaluated the numbers and the numbers just didn’t work out.”

He said it was nothing personal.

“We just decided that it wasn’t for us.”

Weatherly’s investor for the luxury condominium development before the Petersons was local antiques dealer Jimmy Pippen, who died.

Before Pippen, Weatherly said the investor backed out because of the negative press surrounding the development.

The former First Baptist Church had been declared demolition by neglect by the preservation commission in June.

After the declaration, a letter was sent to Weatherly in September informing her that she had 30 days to commence work on the building. If not, she would have to appear before the commission in the form of a public hearing.

The public hearing was Weatherly’s chance to prevent charges from being filed.

It was the public hearing that the board gave her as a final chance, and that was to present plans.

“Now we will file charges against her in all likelihood,” Lewis said.

Commission chair Marty Seibert said the board voted to refer the proceedings to City Attorney Everett Sanders.

Lewis said he is not sure whether the charges filed will be civil or criminal.

Weatherly could not be reached for comment.