Update on Arlington

“Abandoned Mansion in Natchez” by C-Ali (Flickr)

As Thomas Rosell noted in his October 2018 post “News from Natchez,” the City of Natchez is once again pursuing a finding of “demolition by neglect” against the owner of antebellum mansion Arlington, a National Historic Landmark that suffered a fire in 2002. The Historic Natchez Foundation paid for a new roof to dry in the building, at which point it could have been restored, but the owner has not done anything since, and it has fallen victim to vandalism and weather.

An article in the Natchez Democrat this weekend, “City considers next steps for Arlington property,” gives an update on the progress of the city’s legal action, which, if successful, would allow the City to spend public money on stabilizing the building, placing a lien on the property for the funds to be repaid. Contrary to popular belief (and to the very condensed versions of the Democrat article I saw in the Clarion-Ledger this weekend), demolition by neglect does not give the City ownership of the property or mean the City will fully restore it.

“Right now, I’m waiting to hear from a handful of structural engineers from around the region to give us an estimate as to how much a structural analysis report would cost,” [City Planner Riccardo] Giani said. “That would entail looking at the foundation and the interior, exterior and horizontal supports as they relate to the demolition by neglect criteria.”

Now that the 150-day notice period has passed, the city has the legal right to hire someone to do a hands-on determination of the property’s structural damage, Giani said.

Since July, the city has sent at least two certified letters to Vaughan with a 30-day notice and one with a 90-day final notice to make repairs on the property, after which the city has yet to receive any communication from Vaughan.

. . . .

Even after the notices posted in the last year, as well as any additional warnings issued over the past 15 years of neglecting the property, the owner may have yet another chance to make repairs after the structural engineers finish their report, Giani said.

Read more . . .

In better news about another National Historic Landmark in Natchez, the Democrat also has a slide show of photos highlighting the roof work going on at Stanton Hall.




Categories: Abandoned Mississippi, Demolition/Abandonment, Natchez

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3 replies

  1. Part of the problem with Arlington is that no Mississippi government agency can take the property from the owner. Under Mississippi state law, eminent domain cannot be used for historic preservation purposes (something I found out when researching my economic hardship post). I am not sure historic preservationists ever had that power, but if they did, they lost it in eminent domain reforms caused in response to the egregiousness of Kelo v. City of New London. So the City of Natchez nor the MDAH nor anyone else can seize the property from owner in exchange for fair market value. The owner has to be willing to sell it, which he has shown no desire to do, or have it seized for some other reason such as the non-payment of taxes, which he apparently still pays.

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    • It is frustrating, but I don’t think any state has that legal mechanism. Given the egregiousness of Kelo, I can’t say I disagree with that limitation, even though it is infuriating to watch some owners (Mt. Holly is another one) seemingly take pleasure from destroying their historic properties.

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      • You are right in that no other states (that I am aware of) have it specifically stated that eminent domain can be used for historic preservation. But, historic preservation would certainly fall into the broad spectrum of “public use” that is affirmed in Kelo, either in acquiring the property for public use (i.e. a museum) or to transfer it to another private party for restoration. I think some properties in the Northeast have been preserved that way; though, I read a paper on the issue once calling it a “double-edged sword” since eminent domain has been used in far more instances to demolish historic buildings.

        However, returning to the issue of Arlington, Mississippi specifically bans the eminent domain of property for the purpose of historic preservation, which might be unique in the United States. Alabama, for instance, does not specifically prohibit the use of eminently domain for the purpose of historic preservation, though other prohibitions on the power (not to mention the political will or lack thereof) make it exceedingly difficult to do so. That means Dr. Vaughan gets to keep Arlington as ruinous as he likes for as long as he likes.

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