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Recently I attended the Wilson City Council hearing on Lu-Ann Monson’s property at 509 Kenan St. The property and her personal residence at 301 Broad St. are within a very few blocks of downtown Wilson. They are two of a sparse inventory of historic homes representing the best of Wilson from the early 1900s.
The roof at 509 Kenan is missing in its back sections and damage has resulted. However, the home is largely structurally sound, though currently uninhabitable. Ms. Monson outlined a one-year plan of repair and restoration that she could manage within her budget of about $30,000, but appeared to be caught in a Catch-22 position where she was prevented from repairing the house over the past two years due to a “letter of the law” interpretation of North Carolina statutes in this quasi-judicial hearing.
It was evident that there were personal agendas and high feelings in the hearing, and one was left with the strong impression that the ax had long been grinding for Ms. Monson’s head. Historic Preservation Wilson, entrusted and funded to preserve Wilson’s prosperous past, was conspicuously absent in the defense of the property and the Broad-Kenan neighborhood.
Basically, permits had been refused because the city stubbornly insisted that the cost of repairs was $150,000, based on the estimate of a sole contractor. In this vein, she was prevented from protecting the house while the city moved forward with demolition.
In the meeting, city council members were advised by counsel David Reif that they had wide latitude in their powers to resolve the issue. They instead chose to take a narrow and vindictive thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote.
All but one member, Councilman Michael Bell, voted thumbs-down and the meeting was quickly adjourned. Unfortunately, the lopping of Ms. Monson’s head in the council chambers will also cost the historic neighborhoods two homes in the near future.
In popular HGTV shows such as “Fixer-Upper” and “Home Town,” the designing couples work with eager buyers to restore the hidden gems in towns similar in size to Wilson — Waco, Texas, and Laurel, Mississippi, for example — while the Wilson City Council readily approves the steady destruction of its historic neighborhoods.
Once historic homes are gone, they are gone forever. Does Wilson care?
Supporting homeownership is the key to the restoration and revitalization of the Wilson historic districts, which surround a steadily growing downtown revitalization.