Back in May it seemed that another contentious Planning and Zoning dilemma had been avoided and that the best of all possible worlds for the future of the Douglass House was on the horizon. The Douglass House was the last remnant standing in a block that had gone commercial. The Medical Center of Central Georgia owned the property to its right and Subway to its left. Tremont Temple to its rear had been demolished. But a deal was struck.
The owner of the future Dunkin’ Donuts, Lou Patel, bought the house and agreed to donate it to the Community Enhancement Authority along with $20,000 he would have paid to destroy the structure. State Rep. James Beverly, Mercer University President Bill Underwood, Historic Macon and the city came up with a plan. The Douglass House would be relocated and used as the headquarters for the county’s Office of Small Business Affairs. Mercer would move its Upward Bound program there as well and Historic Macon would have helped save part of the historical fabric of the community. A win-win-win, right? Not quite.
There were, and are, several details that needed to be worked out. No decision had been made as to where the house would be relocated. And the biggest impediment? Money. Moving a house, particularly one of its vintage, is a delicate process and involves more than picking it up and moving it. Utilities have to be accounted for and renovations have to occur. The house has sat empty for 42 years. The estimated cost for doing all that runs $600,000 -- and probably much more.
Time is money, and the new owners wanted the house gone yesterday so it applied for a demolition permit, more, we think, to move the process along than an actual desire to demolish the house.
The Design Review Board, still smarting over the decision to demolish Tremont Temple, recommended that the demolition permit be denied. Planning and Zoning commissioners do not have to follow the DRB’s recommendation.
Fortunately P&Z didn’t get in the middle of a willing seller/willing buyer situation as they did with Tremont, but what they did do is give the parties involved time -- 45 days -- to see if they can get it together and move the house. If a plan hasn’t been worked out by mid-October, P&Z commissioners seemed to be leaning toward allowing the demolition to take place.
If that happens, it will be a lose, lose, lose for everyone. Patel, will have lost time and money. The county and Mercer will have lost what could have been an ideal home, rich in history for Upward Bound and the county department. Most of all, the citizens of Macon-Bibb will have lost a big piece of its history that cannot be replaced.