Condo developer to present case

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, February 12, 2008

NATCHEZ — Developers planning to turn the former First Baptist Church into condos will seek the approval of the preservation commission this week, but it may be too little, too late for the commission members.

Historic Natchez Preservation Commission Chairman Marty Seibert said developers should have come before the board months ago, before the removal of historic stained glass windows.

“They bypassed the process that the city has set up for these issues,” Seibert said. “The aldermen should have asked them to make an application to the preservation commission where we would have considered removing the windows.”

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When the commission learned of the removal of the stained glass windows they issued a stop-work order, which was later lifted by the board of aldermen.

The process Seibert is referring to requires approval from the preservation commission and a permit to remove windows or other parts of the property.

The commission has jurisdiction over the exterior of historic buildings, Seibert said.

Further work on the property was stopped when the city discovered there was no permit.

Building owner Judy Weatherly will appear before the commission Wednesday seeking to gain a permit to install new windows and reinstall some of the stained glass windows, in addition to other requests.

Weatherly said some stained glass windows will be put back in place, but only in areas that aren’t living quarters.

“I wanted to upgrade to windows that could be used in bedrooms,” Weatherly said. “Windows do have to meet a certain criteria.”

For the most part, however, she said that a lot of the stained glass windows were broken prior to their removal and were not usable.

“They were being stolen and broken daily,” she said.

Weatherly has been selling some of the windows at a downtown antique shop.

Weatherly said she feels the majority of Natchez residents are happy with the plans for the former church that has been considered an eyesore for years.

“There shouldn’t be any problems with the development,” Weatherly said. “It’s been vacant and falling down for over 20 years. No one’s gone in to clean it up, make it safe, taken out hazardous materials. There were people living there, using drugs there. We’ve gone in and totally cleaned everything out and got it ready to [be] restored.”

Mimi Miller, who works as the Historic Natchez Foundation preservation director, said it was never the renovation of the building that was an issue. She said the fear was that the building was being demolished.

She said the foundation is a big supporter of the adaptive use of the former church.

“We whole-heartedly support that,” Miller said.

Weatherly’s company, Dream Homes Inc., a group based in Marrero, La., bought the property in September of last year. Their plans are to create high-end condos.

The preservation commission meets at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday in the city’s council chambers.