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City of Natchez takes steps to save historic house Arlington that burned in 2002

From The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Although the City of Natchez has begun a formal process called demolition by neglect for the antebellum house Arlington, officials say their intent is to actually save the burned out Natchez landmark.

Arlington is located at 1320 John A Quitman Blvd., and is a federal style house that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The building official and I realized that if this historic house fell down on our watch, it would not be good,” said city planner Riccardo Giani. “Our goal is not to demolish the historic property. I would be very sad if Arlington fell to the ground. This is about saving Arlington.”

Demolition by neglect is a process by which, under state law, Mississppi Code 39-13-15 (2016): “The governing authority of any county or municipality, individually or jointly, is further authorized, in its discretion, to fine any property owner who has been found to own a (historic) property that has been determined to be threatened by demolition by neglect. . .”

Giani said, in this case, Arlington owner Dr. Thomas Vaughan has allowed the historic property to suffer severe deterioration, potentially beyond the point of repair, and Natchez is in the first step of the process, which is giving Vaughan a 30-day notice to repair defects within and around the historic property.

“The city is taking of advantage of the preservation commission ordinance,” said Mimi Miller, Historic Natchez Foundation executive director.

Arlington was built by John Hampton White in 1818. In 1973 the property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and in 1974 was declared a historic national landmark.

The house has been in Vaughan’s family for more than 80 years.

In September 2002, Arlington suffered severe fire damage, which destroyed the roof and the second floor. A roof was installed shortly after the fire, but no work was done to protect the house from weather or vandalism, the Democrat reported in a 2012 story. In 2009, the house was named the second most endangered historic property in Mississippi by the Mississippi Heritage Trust. The Mississippi Heritage Trust has been releasing a list of 10 most endangered places since 1999.

Giani said Arlington has many structural defects that need to be addressed in order to comply with city code.

“We are invoking our right to start this process,” Giani said. “We went through the property and created a list of certain aspects of the property that the owner must clean up. After that, we send the owner a notice that he has 30 days to fix all the items on the list.

“This is one of the few national landmarks in Mississippi. Something has to be done.”

If Vaughan doesn’t repair all the defects the city found within the first 30 days, Giani said the next step would be to give Vaughan notice that in another 30 days he would have to attend a City of Natchez Preservation Commission public hearing on Sept. 12, at which time the committee would give a ruling on whether Vaughn is intentionally allowing the historic property to suffer severe deterioration.

Giani said that if the committee does rule that demolition by neglect is occurring, then Vaughan has another 90 days to get Arlington to Natchez’s standards. If Vaughan does not update Arlington after those 90 days, then the city can fine Vaughan up to $1,000 a day continuously until the house gets up to code. Giania said each day constitutes a separate violation.

“If it gets to that point, hopefully it motivates the owner to get this historic property up to code,” Giani said.