The Design Review Board will recommend the zoning commission deny a demolition permit to the owner to tear down the historic Douglass House in Macon.
“I don’t think anyone is surprised at the decision today,” review board member Robert Apsley said at the end of Monday afternoon’s meeting.
Commercial real estate broker Jim Rollins and businessman Lou Patel asked Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission’s Design Review Board for permission to demolish the house, which has been vacant for 42 years. Rollins said the reason for the request is because proponents to save the house, including Mercer University, Historic Macon and state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, have not come up with a final plan to move the home.
Patel wants the house moved so he can use the site for parking for the Dunkin’ Donuts he plans to build next door.
Patel said after the meeting that he bought the house and agreed -- at Beverly’s request -- to donate it to Beverly’s Community Enhancement Authority, along with $20,000 to help move it. Patel said he originally was going to use that money toward demolition.
Rollins reiterated several times during his presentation Monday that he wants to save the Douglass House but that Patel needs a deadline for when it would be moved.
He said Patel had twice extended the date for the removal. The new deadline is Aug. 30.
“Time is of the essence,” Rollins said. “The time is here to save the Douglass House. ... We can’t wait another 42 years.”
Born the son of a slave, Charles Douglass was a successful businessman in Macon in the early 1900s until his death in 1940. He was a director of a savings and loan company, and he developed and managed the Douglass Theatre for nearly 30 years, according to the Digital Library of Georgia.
The Douglass House, which was Douglass’ home, is next to the vacant site of the former Tremont Temple Baptist Church, across Pine Street from The Medical Center of Central Georgia. Patel and church members faced resistance from Historic Macon and others when they first proposed demolishing the church -- which was in disrepair -- in order to build the Dunkin’ Donuts. Earlier this year, the zoning commission granted approval to tear down the church. It was razed in March.
Patel had understood that The Medical Center would allow him to acquire an alley it owned so he could offer more parking spaces for the doughnut shop, Rollins said.
“We thought we had that worked out,” he said. “But (the Medical Center) is not giving up any property around the hospital that it owns.”
Rollins said that’s when Patel “put the Douglass House under contract with the hopes we would work things out,” he said. “This is not an argument about saving the house. ... He’s got $250,000 and more invested in this house. We will sell it back to Historic Macon for $250,000. ... The community needs to step forward and save the house.”
Mercer University President Bill Underwood has said that if the house was moved close to its campus, the school would move its Upward Bound program there. Also, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert said in May that the house could possibly be used for the city’s Small Business Development Office.
Heather Moore with the Historic Macon Foundation said during Monday’s meeting that the foundation opposes the demolition and that the structure was a contributing property to the historic district.
“I strongly suggest you deny this application,” Moore said.
Beverly said the process to move the house takes time and coordination to get it past electric wires and other infrastructure.
“We walked the route to get it to Mercer a month ago or two months ago, and we had 16 different stakeholders to figure out where the wires would go and what it would cost,” he said. “If Mr. Patel wants to move forward, I’m willing to do that.”
Beverly said last week it would cost more than $300,000 to move the house. Underwood said then that when renovation costs are added, the total cost would be more than $600,000.
The planning and zoning commission is expected to consider Monday the demolition permit and the Design Review Board’s recommendation.
“I already knew what the outcome would be (by the review board), but we are going to ask the planning and zoning commission for a timeline,” Rollins said. “I don’t think they can deny a timeline.”
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.