MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon Historic Review Commission voted Thursday to grant the certificate of appropriateness for the International Church of the Four-Square Gospel to raze the 1890s-vintage house on its property on North Main Street and replace it with a grassy area.
Because the house is in a historic neighborhood, the commission needs to issue the certificate so plans can proceed, but doesn’t have the authority to stop the demolition. Law Director Rob Broeren said the discussion might have been different if the church planned to expand its parking lot or erect another building.
The Knox County Landmarks Foundation objected to the demolition and provided some history for the house.
According to historic background, the 503 N. Main St. house was built in the late 1880s by a man named H.P. Bennett, a member of a prominent local family, a veteran of the Mexican War and the Civil War, and a quartermaster of the Grand Army of the Republic Joe Hooker Post 21.
It is located near the homes of several other well-known and wealthy Mount Vernon residents of the time period.
However, church Pastor Chris Mazzola said that, when the last tenant moved out, the church decide to undertake some renovations, but found it would cost at least $68,000 to do all the obvious work. He also noted that according to what older church members had told him, the church began to tear it down 40 years ago, and had removed part of the house, when they stopped the work because someone needed a place to live.
Carrie Haver presented the foundation’s argument and suggested there might be programs available for restoration funding, but admitted she didn’t know how long such a process would take.
Jeff Gottke, representing the Knox County Land Bank, said a deal might be able to work out a deal to trade the property of the nearby Lustron House on Lamartine for the 503 N. Main property after the Lustron house is moved, but he also couldn’t say when that could happen. The city could only delay the certificate by 30 days and it has already been more than 30 days since the church filed for the demolition permit.
The discussion went on for more than an hour, until Mayor Richard Mavis, who chairs the Planning Commission/Historic Review Commission, pulled the members back from all the talk about restoration possibilities and reminded them that their charge was to decide on the certificate of appropriateness for the plans after demolition.
Gail LaBenne, one of the two members added to the commission when it deals with historic district issues, voted against issuing the permit, but the other, Corby Wise, said he hated it but didn’t think they had any choice but to approve it.
The regular Planning Commission members — Mavis, Safety-Service Director Joel Daniels, Austin Swallow and Bob Drews, voted to issue the certificate.
Wise said the city needs to have more in the city code to help preserve significant buildings and Daniels suggested that this might be a good time for the city to do that since it is already looking at a vacant buildings list. Mavis said they will schedule a work session to start that discussion.