The Tremont Baptist Church, registered as a historic building in the Historic Macon District, a cite of a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was approved for demolition last month, and this week the 114-year-old solid brick building started crumbling down. In its place a Dunkin Donuts will be erected.
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There was a lot of rabble-rousing in Macon, Georgia about the audaciousness of the destruction of a building with such historic value, in the face of offers from a non-profit to purchase the building for the same price as Duncan Donuts and to preserve, instead of destroying, the building.
I want to point out, first and foremost, that Duncan Donuts was and is the purchaser that the congregation of Tremont desired to sell their property to, and as a matter of course, they could freely do so. I don’t think it was improper for the congregation to reject the offer from Historic Macon. That is and always will be their right. This has been, and always will be, my position on that issue.
My problem is with the Macon-Bibb Planning and Zoning Commission: an administrative agency of five people, appointed by the Mayor, that makes decisions on the alterations of the Macon cityscape, in accordance with the law.
When you read the law (which I’ve provided below), it is quite clear that approving the demolition of this building was in clear violation of the standard by which a request for razing and demolition of a structure is to be reviewed. This is probably because this board contains only one lawyer (who voted not to demolish the building, to give her credit) and four laypersons with no background (EDIT: one of them, the second vote against demolition, is Jean Easom: a very experienced MAI appraiser) in real estate whatsoever. Four factors are to be assessed when determining whether or not a historic building should be granted a waiver of the planning and zoning commission to demolish a building:
Is the building of such architectural or historical interest that its removal would be to the detriment of the public interest?;
Is the building of such old and unusual or uncommon design, texture and material that it could not be reproduced or be reproduced only with great difficulty?;
Would retention of the building help preserve and protect an historic place or area of other interest in the county?; and/or
Would retention of the building promote the general welfare by maintaining and increasing real estate values; generating business; creating new positions attracting tourists, students, writers, historians, artists and artisans; attracting new residents; encouraging study and interest in American history; stimulating interest and study in architecture and design; educating citizens in American culture and heritage; or making the county a more attractive and desirable place in which to live?
Taking the factors line by line, it seems quite clear that a nationally recognized historic landmark where on of the most prolific leaders in the civil rights movement delivered a speech classifies this building as one of substantial historic interest. The building is made of solid brick — an antiquated and unique architectural design which is in and of itself historic. And, as such, retention of the building protects not only a place of historic public interest, but promotes the general welfare of everyone throughout the county.
The Planning and Zoning Commission failed Macon-Bibb County by failing to apply the law. There was a time when Superior Court Judges, elected by the masses, would hear applications for demolition of historic buildings. If those Judges failed to apply the law, they would be voted out by their constituents. However, now, we’ve delegated authority from the bench to an administrative agency that the people do not vote for, and if they fail to properly apply the law, there is no consequence to their continued service to our community.
This is a call to dismantle the Macon-Bibb Planning and Zoning Commission. I trust a Judge, learned in the law, vetted by his/her local bar, subject to election and public scrutiny, over folks with none of those qualifications whom bear no burden as a result of doing their job improperly.
Photo from Adam Ragusea.