Owner of burned, but still nationally significant, Mississippi mansion ignores city’s demands to clean it up

Published 8:39 am Friday, September 6, 2019

Several months after the City of Natchez stepped in to try and save the historic antebellum mansion, Arlington, the structure still sits unmaintained with grass and brush growing around the abandoned building.

City officials completed a process called demolition by neglect against the owner of Arlington in January and some eight months later no further progress has been made on the property, officials said.

Meanwhile the federal-style, suburban villa built in 1818 sits vacant with broken windows and graffiti scrawled on it.

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City Planner Riccardo Giani said the property’s owner, Tom Vaughan of Jackson, has been unresponsive.

“We just have to be unique in our approach, and I think the traditional methods have not worked,” Giani said. “It is just kind of at a standstill.”

The city initiated the demolition by neglect last October and the process is outlined in a step-by-step ordinance that culminates with officials being able to fine or impose a tax lien on a property owner if the owner fails to maintain the property.

Giani said the approximate 150-day process ended in January and Vaughn has been unresponsive.

Still, Giani said, the city has not taken further action to levy a tax lien or impose a fine on Vaughan who inherited the property from his family, which has owned it since the 1920s.

“It’s not that it is dead,” Giani said of the process. “It’s just that it is at a standstill. We are working out some things with the building officials and the city attorney, operating within the law.”

After a fire destroyed the original roof on the house in September 2002, the Historic Natchez Foundation worked to add a new roof to prevent the house from falling to the ground completely.

Natchez City Attorney Robert “Bob” Latham said he plans to meet with Giani to determine the best route to proceed that will be fair to the property owner and would be suitable for preserving the property.

“I’ve done what I needed to do in regards to the planning sense,” Giani said. “We live in America where private property rights are the strongest in the world, so for a government entity to take possession of a property in general or a property of this magnitude is definitely a huge question.”

MiMi Miller, former director of the Historic Natchez Foundation said she remains hopeful that Arlington can be saved.

“I never give up hope that something will help us be able to preserve Arlington,” Miller said.