By Laura Camper / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Grantville City Council has rejected a decision by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to stop the removal of a section of a dilapidated building, citing the commission abused its authority.
The City Council held a special meeting on Thursday to consider an appeal by Capital City Bank, owner of the old mill on Industrial Way, of the commission’s decision to deny a certificate of appropriateness. The bank had applied to remove a portion of the back wall of Mill 2 in order to get equipment inside the building to treat contamination of the soil under the building.
A tuxedo cleaning business had operated in the building, and cleaning chemicals had leached through the pine floors and into the soil beneath, said Sterling Bryant, vice president of the bank. Since the bank is the current owner, it is responsible for cleaning up the contamination.
The commissioners had instead offered alternatives to cutting into the wall to protect the integrity of the building. But the company appealed the decision.
At the beginning of the meeting, Mark Mitchell, the city’s attorney, told the members that the only actions they could take were to approve, modify or reject the commissioners decision. The question according to the city’s ordinance is “Did the Historic Preservation Commission abuse its position in reaching its decision?” Mitchell said.
The commissioners must consider several criteria when making decisions, he said. Those included the historical interest of the building, the design and architecture of the building, the effect the preservation would have on the surrounding neighborhood and the value of the heritage of the building for the community.
“Based on the commission’s decision letter, this was not done,” said Clayton Osteen, attorney for the bank.
The commission’s letter of July 15 did address the historic significance of the building, though. The letter states that the commissioners were concerned that if the back wall were removed the other walls might collapse.
“The goal of the Grantville Preservation Commission is to retain the integrity of the historic district,” the letter states. “The mill is a big part of that history, which is why it is included in our local historic district and on our National Register District. This mill dates back to 1886-1887 and is written about on the West Georgia Textile Trail website. The commission would like to see this building preserved and repurposed.”
Additionally, Osteen said the building had in 2019 been approved for demolition by the commissioners.
In that letter the commission also referenced the historic significance of the building.
“Although the structure would have met at least one of the requirements for not approving your application, the commission felt that safety was an overriding reason to approve,” the letter states. “The commission regrets this loss to our historic village, but safety must take precedence.”
The 2019 letter also states that Bryant made a compelling argument as to the “safety of the structure and associated environmental concerns.”
The bank was not able to follow through with the demolition after the pandemic hit the country, he said. Then, the bank reconsidered those safety concerns after speaking with a potential buyer for the property, Bryant stated on Thursday.
“We were ready to go to contract, and he backed out,” Bryant said. “But he presented some interesting options.”
One of the options that would save a good portion of the building was the one the bank most recently presented to the HPC, he said.
“That’s where we are tonight,” Bryant said.
The commission members also justified their decision to the council members.
“The HPC did not deny the bank’s application,” Coty said. “We said there were conditions that they needed to follow.”
The conditions included removing the damaged portion of the roof from the exterior of the building with a crane and not from the interior. In addition, all the walls should remain, even if supports are required, Coty said. Finally, the commissioners said the roof should be replaced when the contamination is remediated. There was no specific timeline given for any of the work, she added.
Rodney Mowery, a member of the commission, and a crane operator before he retired, said he was sure the damaged roof could be removed with a crane safely.
Commission Member Marion Cieslik asked the council members to support their commission.
“Come on, this is our town, our historical flavor,” Cieslik said. “Let’s not sell out. Keep it intact.”
Tim Kmetz, another member of the commission, didn’t trust the bank to properly care for the structure as it cut into the walls.
“They were negligent in knocking the supports down that caused this roof to collapse,” Kmetz said.
Commission member Barham Lundy said the mill was an important part of the city’s history and should be protected.
“That mill is Grantville. Without that mill, this city wouldn’t be here,” Lundy said. “It’s history. It’s who we are.”
Many of the homes around the area are mill houses, built for the people who worked there and eventually bought for private residences, he said. Other mills around the state have been rehabilitated for other purposes, and Lundy said he would like to see the same in Grantville.
In the end, the council members unanimously approved the bank’s appeal and authorized them to move forward with their plans as originally presented.