Deed: Pecan Factory property is private

Published 12:08 pm Saturday, February 10, 2007

Mayor Phillip West says there is room for debate on the ownership of the Pecan Factory land, but the deed on file in the county courthouse says differently.

According to the deed, the city sold the land to Worley Brown, LLC, in May, which would mean the city demolished a privately owned building.

West issued an executive order Thursday to have city workers demolish the Natchez Pecan Factory because, he said, it was a safety hazard to the community.

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“They (Worley Brown, LLC) don’t have a clear title to the property,” West said. “It’s in litigation. They thought they had the deed, but it’s being challenged.”

A suit was filed by citizens last year over the sale of the public land, in part alleging the city was breaking the law by selling it below its appraised value. A circuit court finding that sided with the city is being appealed and is awaiting hearing by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Worley Brown, LLC, bought the land from the city in May and holds the deed to the property, which was originally given to the city by the owners.

“The city can go on to any land (and demolish a building) if it is deemed an emergency situation,” West said. “Normally, the board would go through the process of condemning the property.”

West said he felt the factory was an emergency situation and needed immediate attention.

“It would be malfeasance for me to get information knowing we’ve got a deteriorating situation and for me not to take appropriate action in a timely manner,” he said.

West did not apply for a demolition permit from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which, under law, must be done before destroying a building designated as a Mississippi landmark.

The MDAH filed a restraining order regarding the property Thursday against both the City of Natchez and developers Worley Brown, LLC. Demolition continued until the building was completely torn down.

West said Thursday that the reason he issued the executive order was he had recently received information about people going in and out of the building and he was concerned about the public health.

“I was not aware of activity (before) that time,” West said Friday. “Information was shared with me that different things were going on there, that the building was deteriorating and that people were playing in the building.”

West said he had city workers tear down the building because the ownership of the land was in question.

West said Thursday that he did not believe he was breaking the law because the land, not the building, was historic.

A Certificate of Mississippi Landmark Designation filed Jan. 2006 states “The property commonly known as the Natchez Pecan Shelling Factory, together with all singular improvements therein…” is designated a Mississippi Landmark by MDAH.

The restraining order was issued to Mayor Pro-tem Theodore “Bubber” West Thursday because the mayor was out of town on city business.

Alderman West said he called the mayor and conveyed the message.

“The only way we (the board of aldermen) could override an executive order would be to call an emergency board meeting to discuss it,” Alderman West said. “I called two or three of the aldermen, and they were out of town. We could not do it, so the executive order stands. And I support the executive order 100 percent.”

Mayor West said a hearing would be scheduled, probably early next week. He said he did not know the exact time or date but Board Attorney Everett Sanders would know.

Sanders did not return phone calls before press time.

“I would imagine what would be discussed during the hearing would be proceedings regarding the temporary restraining order,” West said. “We want to remove the rubble.”