Demolition of local landmark delayed to find potential buyer


Greenville’s Historic Preservation Commission approved a 365-day delay in the demolition of a local landmark to give its owners time to find a buyer who will restore the house to its turn-of-the-century glory.

The delay was part of a unanimous vote granting the City of Greenville a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the Jacob W. Higgs House, 1112 Dickinson Ave. Assistant City Attorney Scott Dixon said placing a delay on the demolition is the only authority the commission has over the project.

The Greenville City Council in January voted to authorize the demolition and removal of the structure after staff reported it was dilapidated, meaning the cost of repairing the home was 50 percent greater than the value of the property. Staff placed the building’s value at $54,022 and the total property value at $126,284. Staff estimated the repair costs would be $307,671.

Maggie Gregg, regional director of Preservation North Carolina, an organization that works to preserve and repair historic properties, said despite the house’s current condition, there are people interested in restoring the home.

“I’ve been able to evaluate the property from a preservation perspective,” Gregg said. “And while there are active leaks and deterioration, overall this structure is incredibly, structurally sound for a preservation purpose. It will require rehabilitation, but it is not nearly as bad as some of the projects I’ve seen.”

City staff previously reported the flooring in a back room is gone, leaving the basement exposed. The flooring in the kitchen also is compromised and will likely cave in. People have sought shelter in the house and started fires in containers.

In her evaluation, Gregg said she found pressed tin ceilings from Rocky Mount on both the second and first floors. The central hall woodwork was shipped from Baltimore and all mantels made in Greensboro. The builder also planned for electricity and bathrooms, Gregg said.

City documents described the house, built for businessman Jacob W. Higgs between 1903-05, as “one of the most intact examples of the substantial turn-of-the-century Queen Anne/Colonial Revival House surviving in Greenville.”

Two families, the Browns and Hartfields, purchased the house, which was used as a shelter for many years.

Gregg said she talked to the owners and an option agreement has been drafted that will allow Preservation North Carolina to search for a buyer who will rehabilitate the home under the organization’s requirements.

The option must be signed and notary and all heirs and their spouses must sign the options.

Gregg said she already has some of the heirs’ signatures and the final signatures will be in place by week’s end. James Brown Jr., one of the heirs, confirmed her statement.

“The property is fixable,” Brown said. “We are willing to do whatever … all they need is that 365 days.

“We don’t want to tear down our history. No one knows where they come from if it’s not there to get them to remember the old days,” Brown said. “I grew up in Greenville and have seen many things torn down and we need to keep some things around to remember what Greenville was.”

Commission member Larry Hall was concerned that potential buyers couldn’t complete the restoration before the 365-day deadline. He asked what guarantees a buyer would have.

Chief Planner Chantae Gooby said the city will want to measure the progress. If enough work is done, the dilapidated status could be revoked, she said. It’s ultimately up to the City Council to determine if the demolition order is revoked.

Hall said it’s important to know that a potential buyer’s investment is protected.

Dixon said he believes if there is clear progress in the restoration the council would be willing to work with the new property owners.

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