After a lengthy discussion Wednesday, the Danville Architectural Review Board unanimously granted Centre College permission to demolish three historic houses so the school can take steps toward building a new parking lot.
College officials had purchased four houses on North Fifth Street “due to safety concerns for its students,” Jamey Leahey, Centre's associate vice president for legal affairs, wrote in a project proposal submitted to the ARB. That area at the edge of Centre’s campus not only has been a long-standing “aesthetic problem” but also a hotbed of “danger and apparent criminal activity,” Leahey wrote.
Due to the historic status of the area, the ARB tabled the issue so officials from the Kentucky Heritage Council could consider the request.
“After consideration of the cost and the rich historic fabric of the community, the Kentucky Heritage Council would strongly urge that the Danville Architectural Review Board deny the proposal for demolition,” Lindy Casebier, a preservation officer with the Kentucky¿Heritage Council, wrote in a letter dated Nov. 19.
“The case has not been made that there are no cost-effective alternatives to demolition or demonstrated that these buildings do not contribute to the character of the district …”
No one from the state personally visited the properties in question, and the numbers used in the letter recommending the denial of Centre’s request were inaccurate, according to Leahey.
ARB member Julie Rodes, also a downtown resident, said the house on 118 N. Fifth St. posed a “danger” and an “economic hardship.” On the other hand, she said several times during the meeting that she believes the other three buildings should be saved and used for some other purpose. She characterized the bungalow at 124 N. Fifth St. as “lovely.” Bill Pollom, Heart of Danville board chairman, also spoke on behalf of saving that property.
Leahey expressed environmental concerns about all four houses but acknowledged that only initial testing had been performed.
Ultimately, the ARB members unanimously voted to grant the college a certificate of appropriateness so officials could raze the buildings at 118-122 N. Fifth St. If an environmental consultant finds an unacceptable level of groundwater contamination at 124 N. Fifth St., the ARB will consider allowing Centre to demolish the property. Leahey estimated it will cost the college about $50,000 to conduct the level of testing required by the ARB.
Leahey also had issued an application for a conditional certificate of appropriateness to demolish the former Marathon station at 477 W. Main St. and create off-street parking for Centre students and visitors. Though the college does not currently own the Main Street property, Leahey believes it will be able to purchase it from the owner. The former Marathon station also has environmental contamination issues, according to Leahey.
ARB members unanimously denied his request, citing concerns about too many parking lots surrounding the entrance to Danville’s city limits.
“There is no bigger pockmark than an empty parking lot,” Rodes said.
Leahey said he would have to talk to other decision makers regarding whether to appeal the ARB’s decision on that matter or forego the plan to purchase the former Marathon station.