Lowndes County is hoping an unexpected hitch in a planned downtown building demolition doesn’t turn into an extended delay.
County Administrator Ralph Billingsley told The Dispatch on Thursday morning the county learned it needed to seek permits from the Columbus Historic Preservation Commission before proceeding with the Waters Building’s demolition. The Waters Building is located at 503 Second Ave. N.
The demolition project, contracted to Columbus-based Burns Dirt Construction for $41,000, was underway when the county received notification of the error, and about 20 percent of the building was already destroyed.
On Thursday afternoon, Billingsley said the county is working with the preservation commission to set up a special-called meeting to address the matter. He said he hopes to have a meeting as early as Monday.
There is no fee associated with a preservation commission permit, according to city officials.
Billingsley said the county maintains its own building inspection department, with an agreement with the city that any county-owned building — including those such as the Waters Building within city limits — is inspected through that department. He said the county’s building inspection department issued the proper demolition permits. The contractor received permission from the city council on Tuesday to block off part of the street during the demolition.
Columbus building inspector Kenneth Wiegel said the Waters Building is within the downtown historic district.
“Because of this, the building owner, Lowndes County, will need to get approval for demolition from the Columbus Historic Preservation Commission before the work continues,” he said. “This is the same approval that the city of Columbus had to get prior to the City Hall renovations and the demolition of the Gilmer Hotel downtown. Once approved, the work can continue.”
Demolition of the 58-year-old building abruptly halted Thursday morning after Billingsley said city officials notified the county about the error.
“We did not realize we had to get a blessing from the historical commission, since it’s not a historical building,” he said. “Because it’s in the historic district, we have to go through that process, and that was unknown to us.”
According to city public information officer Joe Dillon, Wiegel noticed the demolition underway when he was returning to his office from the Trotter Convention Center. He said Wiegel spoke with the contractors and, after he learned of the error, informed city officials, who reached out to the county.
Billingsley said the city might have alerted the county earlier, had the county gone through the city’s building inspection department. However, because the county used its own department, he said that communication never happened.
Still, Billingsley said his office should have known and taken the steps to ensure proper procedure was followed.
For now, Billingsley said he hopes to resolve the issue in a timely manner.
“It can be an endangerment hazard if someone got on that site,” Billingsley said. “Someone could get hurt. It doesn’t need to sit there for a week-and-a-half in the condition that it’s in.”
The county purchased the Waters Building and a parking lot across the street last June for $250,000. Billingsley said the county plans to use the cleared lot for additional parking space in the short term. He said long term plans for the property are still unclear.
Billingsley said the building, which he described as an “eyesore” for the downtown area, was once used for office space.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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