Arlington owner now facing charges

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 16, 2009

NATCHEZ — Burned out, dilapidated Arlington is currently at the mercy of the judge.

The owner of the antebellum home on John A. Quitman Avenue is facing criminal charges for the current falling-down status of the building.

Last July, the Natchez Preservation Commission voted to go forth with demolition by neglect proceedings.

A building is ruled in demolition by neglect because its owner’s lack of maintenance is destroying the building.

First, the owner is sent a letter asking him to appear before the commission to plead his case.

Building Inspector Paul Dawes said several letters have been sent to Arlington owner Dr. Thomas Vaughn, and the majority of the letters have been returned by the postal department.

Now, nearly a year later since the ruling was handed down, Dawes has been instructed by the preservation commission to proceed with criminal charges against Vaughn.

“I have signed the affidavit and we are awaiting action by the municipal judge,” Dawes said.

Municipal Judge Jim Blough could not be reached for comment.

“This action against the owner is to obviously make him doubly aware that he needs to do something about it, whether it’s fix the building itself or sell it to allow someone who does have enough interest in the property and financial wherewithal to take over the building,” Dawes said.

If the owner decides to forfeit or donate the property, City Planner John “Rusty” Lewis said the city would not be the best entity to take care of it.

While the city could have the means to properly demolish the building, Lewis said that would be the most unfavorable option.

“It’s a historic landmark in this nation, and we don’t want it knocked down,” he said.

“I think it can be stabilized,” he said.

And he said the city is not in a position to stabilize and rehab the building.

The best agency to handle such a historic property would be the Historic Natchez Foundation, he added.

“If it were going to be donated somewhere, I think they would be better at fostering that building’s survival,” Lewis said.

A multitude of problems plague the building from years of neglect, and recent storms from Dec. 9 and early May could have caused additional wind and rain damage, though it’s been awhile since Dawes has inspected the building, he said.

Dawes said he’s never been involved in a neglect case that resulted in criminal charges..

“Usually something happens before (it gets here) — either (the owner) releases the property to someone else to avoid criminal charges,” he said.

The former First Baptist Church on Main Street was ruled in demolition by neglect during the same preservation commission meeting last year.

Former owner Judy Weatherly pleaded her case for more time, but she eventually put the building back on the market.