Fayette County

Fate of 19th-century Lexington house to be decided in August

This house, at 163 East Third Street in Lexington’s Constitution Historic District, was built in the 1800s. Its fate is uncertain.
This house, at 163 East Third Street in Lexington’s Constitution Historic District, was built in the 1800s. Its fate is uncertain. rgarrison@herald-leader.com

The owners of a house on East Third Street that was built in the 1800s have delayed an application to demolish the property after preservationists and some neighbors raised objections.

Jerry and Charlotte Lundergan, who own the house and several others on East Third Street, asked the Lexington Board of Architectural Review to delay the application that was expected to be heard May 25.

Bettie Kerr, the director of historic preservation, told the board during that meeting that a lawyer for the Lundergans asked for the delay so they could talk to those who oppose the demolition and explore other options.

“We want there to be enough time for legitimate discussions to take place,” Kerr said.

The board agreed to move the demolition application for the house at 163 East Third Street to the board’s Aug. 10 meeting. Because the house is in the Constitution Historic District, homeowners must get the board’s blessing before demolition is allowed.

The Lundergans did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. A call to Charlotte Lundergan was not returned.

In their application for demolition, the Lundergans said that according to an engineer’s report, the house is beyond repair and is a public safety hazard. It would cost more to repair and restore the home than what the property is worth.

The application said a March report by engineering firm Buell, Fryer, McReynolds, Jahed said the “walls, floor and roof are in considerable disrepair and pose a risk to public safety if the building is not demolished.” Furthermore, contractors estimate that repairs needed to the home exceed the “estimated valuation of the property by as much as four times the property’s assessment.” A 2016 assessment said the property’s fair cash value was $100,000.

The board received more than a dozen letters opposing the demolition of the house that was built before the 1870s. The house has been altered and has had several commercial uses, including an upholstery shop and later a furniture and antiques shop.

The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation, which advocates for the preservation of historical properties, said if the demolition request is granted, it will be the first historical property in the Constitution district that has been torn down since the current regulations for historic districts were adopted.

“If this house goes down, it becomes a precedent for not only this district but every single H1 district,” said Maureen Peters, president of the board of the Blue Grass Trust. Lexington has 15 historic districts.

The city’s historic-preservation staff recommended that the home be saved.

“While the condition of the building is unfortunate, that is no reason to tear the structure down,” the staff report said. “Staff has spent a considerable amount of time investigating and researching the structure and finds that it can certainly be renovated.”

The report said the Lundergans’ engineer report shows that the foundation is in good condition and can be repaired.

The Lundergans, who own the nearby Carrick House, bought the property with several other parcels in 2011. The Lundergans have repaired and restored two homes west of the property that were bought at the same time as the home at 163 East Third. The board had previously approved plans to demolish a brick addition and another addition on the front of the house.

Travis Robinson, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. neighborhood association, said he and many people he has spoken to oppose demolition. The historic district helps protect property values in an area of town that has seen an uptick in investment in recent years.

“Everybody owns an old house,” Robinson said. “We have all saved our old houses. We all value our history. Even the developers that come in see the value of restoring these homes — even those that are outside of the H1 overlay.”

In a letter to the board, the Blue Grass Trust argued that the house’s value would not have dropped to $100,000 if the Lundergans had not allowed the building to continue to deteriorate after they bought it in 2011. A house at 155 East Third was valued at $65,000 before its sale in 2011. The Lundergans have since fixed that property, and its value is $190,000, the letter said.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall