Built in 1799 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the Federal-style building was deemed a “nuisance property” in Richmond County Magistrate Court this week and its owner, Wes Sims, was ordered to either repair or demolish the structure.
Rob Sherman, Augusta-Richmond County’s development manager, said the ruling comes after more than two years of frustration in which Sims promised, but has not made, progress on repairing the three-story house’s west-facing chimney and adjoining wall, both of which collapsed in August 2011.
“We want him to do something,” Sherman said. “Fix it, demolish it, but do something.”
Sherman said Sims’ relationship with the city has gotten to the point that the Birmingham, Ala., investor will not return phone calls.
Sims was not present during the hearing this week; however, he said in a phone interview that he did not receive notice the city planned to contest his property’s demolition in court for its being a public health hazard until two days after Monday’s hearing.
The notice was sent by certified mail Oct. 9, but Sims said he had been in Tampa, Fla., for the past two weeks tending to his grandfather, who is ill.
“I can’t believe that they could do this. That was the only form of communication I received before they ordered demolition,” Sims said. “I would have been in a court without a doubt, but basically since I did not show up, there was a judgment issued against me. At least give me a fair chance to fight for my property.”
As of Friday, the house was still standing and no demolition date has been set. The long-vacant house on Sand Bar Ferry Road was used as a restaurant in the 1970s and early 1980s and was for sale and priced in the $250,000 range for several years before ultimately selling to Sims for less than $20,000.
Sherman said Sims must provide a detailed plan of the improvements he will make to the house and when. If Sims fails to respond in a timely manner, the city will proceed with demolition.
Sims said he is seeking an attorney in Augusta to file a motion to appeal the ruling and possibly vacate the judgment.
“They just do not operate that fast with these kind of things, but this could be a special circumstance and they might want to wipe it under the rug and demolition it quickly,” he said.
Sims said he still plans to fix the house, adding that last week he received interest from another investor who would like to help with restoration, possibly transforming it into a bed-and-breakfast with some type of historical display inside.
“There definitely needs to be some forward action involved, even though to me, I do not think it is a public health hazard,” he said. “The public should not be in my house.”
Robyn Anderson, the preservation services director for Historic Augusta, said the building has been named to the nonprofit preservation society’s endangered property list. The organization has been very involved with Sims to advocate on behalf of the house and offer assistance to fix it, she said.
“The wall can be rebuilt; the building can be stabilized, according to an engineering survey we had done,” Anderson said, adding that Historic Augusta would hate to see the building go.
“It is unfortunate it had to come to this point, but I don’t think that the building is going to be demolished anytime soon,” she said. “It might fall down a little bit more before anybody would bulldoze it.”