Too bad about the Nichols House –Jim Parker @ VCC 2014-10-23

Received 23 October 2014 on Alfred Willis comments at Valdosta Historic Preservation 2014-10-06. I added the [vote correction] and the links. -jsq

I attended tonight’s City Council meeting, and heard Dr Willis’ impassioned advocacy of the Council approving the historical preservation of the Nichols’ House. Our Historic Preservation Commission reviewed this and request recommended approval by a vote of five to one. Dr Willis sold me on the merits. Unfortunately, the Council must not have heard what I did, and unanimously voted against [actually all but one against] approving the designation. It looks to me, that as it stands, demolition of the house could commence tomorrow, and the replacement construction of the apartments for VSU students can commence.

A huge number of apartment buildings have been built over the past few years. First with the large complexes of Blanton Commons, The Gardens, and The Grove, to the numerous buildings along West Mary, Baytree Drive, Boone Drive and Oak Street, among others. Plans are still on tap for the major development of the entire city block just south of campus (one that I can actually appreciate). The question was mentioned to me tonight whether these “student” apartments are actually necessary. It seems enrollment at VSU, and thus the need for this housing, has plateaued lately, such that vacancy rate is relatively high.

I don’t know if the whole idea of the historicity of the house and lot went over the Council’s heads or what. Only Councilman Yost expressed any interest in preserving the house itself by having it moved somewhere else. But, like where? One of the determining factors of the house design was because of the shape of the lot.

Like I said, Dr. Willis’ presentation, which took up the whole fifteen minutes allotted to each side to speak, sold me on approving the designation, with an eye toward doing something for the city with it. The only one to speak against, by taking the entire fifteen minutes, was a lawyer alumni for the fraternity that owns the property, and wants to unload it, because the local chapter has ceased to exist. Selling it to a developer that wants to demolish it and build apartments makes perfect sense. They’re gone. They have no vested interest in Valdosta. They want to cash out and go their merry way.

Like I said, when the vote came in on the motion “to deny historical preservation status” to the property, it was a unanimous seven to none [actually six to one against]. I really thought they were going to table the motion until next time and taken a little time to consider, but the mayor had them go right to it.

The truth is, an apartment complex on the property, probably gets more revenue for the city than this unoccupied property does. Boiled down to dollars, the city would rather have the tax base of an apartment complex on a piece of property than this dwelling. The value of the Nichols House was much more esoteric, and I don’t think the Council could see that aspect. Thus, the vote. I think it a shame.

-Jim Parker

4 thoughts on “Too bad about the Nichols House –Jim Parker @ VCC 2014-10-23

  1. Tim Carroll

    I realize many may think none on council heard what Dr. Willis had to say, but that was not the case. What I think was missed by many in the audience was the fact that the owner of this property was not the applicant of this request, but was adamantly opposed to it. Not only did they have an offer on the table to sell, but it was pending the outcome of the vote regarding historic designation. To take away the rights of a property owner at the request of another is a very tricky thing. Whose rights come first? This was a tough decision in and unto itself. To suggest that only the monetary value of the property for taxation purposes drove the decision demonstrates a lack of true understanding of the all the pertinent facts of this case.

  2. Jim Parker

    So because the owner of the property, which appeared to be a national property owning corporation for the fraternity’s local chapters, couldn’t, or more likely, didn’t want to see the cultural and architectural significance of the Nichols’ House, and merely wanted to unload the property as quick as possible, their property rights trump all other citizens of Valdosta in regards to our historical/cultural history and what we may wish to preserve? Do private entities, which may not even live here, have carte blanche to run roughshod and do whatever they please in our city irregardless of the interests of the citizens that do?

    If you think I have a “lack of true understanding of all pertinent facts of this case,” you are more than free to share with me what those are. Yes, it may have been a “tricky thing” to prevent the owner from turning the property over to a developer to build yet more apartments near VSU, but there was a very real cultural reason for not doing that. If the city played it right, they could have made that a plus for the city. It just seemed to me the CC didn’t see that angle, with the exception of councilman Yost, who unfortunately, IMO, didn’t see the importance of the property in the design of the house.

    I do understand that my arguments are more artistic and cultural in nature, much less so financial and economic. I just believe that it is these artistic and cultural that make our city desirable to live in, above the immediate financial and economic arguments. which act in detriment of our long term economic interests. I could easily have seen the Nichols House, preserved and turned into a VSU medical clinic for students living out in that direction from campus.

  3. Alfred Willis

    The City Council’s deliberations on the 23rd had nothing to do with any construction project, but rather focused on the sale of a parcel — as Councilman Carroll’s message of the 25th accurately conveys. The Council’s vote was historic because it signified openly the supremacy of certain private property interests (specifically, those entailed in selling as a form of enjoyment) over civic cultural interests, at least within the municipality of Valdosta. In doing so it gave Valdosta’s citizens a peek behind a curtain that had remained drawn over historic preservation here since 1980. The construction of buildings, the demolition of buildings, the remodeling or moving of buildings, the maintenance and preservation of buildings, their sale and their purchase, their adaptive reuse — all of those processes are historical processes that turn on the resolution of conflicts among interests. Thus they all reveal structures of power and the machinations of powerful individuals and groups. How could they not? The construction of the Nichols house in the early 1950s showed with a degree of clarity that probably no other Valdosta building of that time did, the identity, values, attitudes, and mode of operation of Valdosta’s leadership. Its demolition will necessarily be no less revealing of what Valdosta and its leaders today are all about. The significance of the Nichols house therefore continues to build, week to week, from crescendo to crescendo toward a climax that I suspect will come only many years after its demise. It was in that sense that I referred to the Nichols house, when I spoke before the Historic Preservation Commission, as Valdosta’s Penn Station.

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