Though the Mississippi Department of Archives and History did not make it a state landmark, the Taylor-Burns House on Third Street North has gotten one last chance to avoid demolition.
The Columbus Redevelopment Authority board voted Wednesday to list the dilapidated antebellum home across from the Lowndes County Soccer Complex on the market for 45 days, citing interest from at least two individuals who might want to purchase and restore it. The Taylor-Burns House is part of the Burns Bottom Redevelopment District, which CRA is overseeing in hopes of replacing vacant and low-value homes with a higher-value housing project.
The house was first slated for demolition in March 2018 before MDAH intervened to determine if it should be protected as a state landmark. However, MDAH opted last month not to landmark it, making the house eligible for removal.
Hearts and Home Realty will list the property for $35,000. CRA — which has purchased nearly 40 lots in the five-block project area near downtown since 2016 — acquired the Taylor-Burns House for $30,000 from the William G. Cannon III family.
CRA’s acquisition of the home was part of the organization’s plan to purchase about 70 lots — most of which are empty or contain vacant, dilapidated houses, though some homes in the area are still occupied — and clear them in order to sell the entire property to a developer. After slating the Taylor-Burns House and seven others in the project area for demolition last year, CRA discovered the whole neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and required an MDAH survey for landmarks before the project could proceed.
Though CRA strongly urged MDAH not to grant landmark status to the Taylor-Burns House so it would not disrupt the overall development, chairman John Acker said the authority’s decision to list the home now — as opposed to moving ahead to demolish it — was “a way to meet in the middle” between progress and preservation.
“We’re trying to please both sides a little bit,” he told The Dispatch. “If someone wants to restore the home, that will make the preservationists happy. … We don’t want an albatross in the middle of the development, but if it is done carefully, because we still see the rest of (Burns Bottom) as being one tract that’s residential, (the house) will fit really well there.”
The house — built in the 1830s, occupied during Reconstruction by a Union officer and later by the Burns family who is the neighborhood’s namesake — is listed as a significant historic contributor to the Burns Bottom neighborhood, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
By the time CRA acquired it, the house had long been vacant and had suffered significant structural deterioration, including fire and water damage.
Restoring it would, at minimum, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Acker said. However, if it is converted to an income-producing property, there’s a chance a developer could take advantage of historic preservation tax credits because it is a contributing building to a national historic district.
“If someone wanted to, say, rent it as a rental property for five years, that would qualify,” Mississippi Landmarks Coordinator Katherine Anderson said. “But if it’s the owner’s residence, or was going to be, that would make it ineligible for the tax credit.”
If interested buyers come to the table, Acker said CRA will add a stipulation to the deed stating it must approve exterior architectural plans for the home that show the buyer intends to keep the historical exterior intact. He said that clause in the deed is a way to hold the buyer, and any renovators they hire, accountable.
“We’re just trying to protect the overall development,” he said. “If someone does come in to renovate it, we want to make sure they do what they say they’re going to do.”
CRA still is negotiating with other property owners to acquire the remaing lots in the project area, including as many as 10 owner-occupied residential lots. Even so, Acker said it is a huge relief the yearlong process with MDAH over the Taylor-Burns House is finally over.
“It’s a process, coming to the table with property owners, but we’re ready to get back to it,” Acker said. “… We’re really excited because we feel like we’ve turned a corner on the whole project.”
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