Newcomb Oil won’t be allowed to demolish house by FiveStar

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By Randy Patrick

The Bardstown City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to deny Newcomb Oil Inc.’s request to demolish a brick bungalow beside the FiveStar at 122 E. Stephen Foster Ave.

The company, which wants to tear down the convenience store and build a bigger one, wants to use the lot at 113 for more gas pumps and parking.

The council upheld the Historical Review Board’s unanimous decision Dec. 20 to deny the application because it found that it is in conflict with the design standards of the city’s Historic District and that it did not provide sufficient evidence to show that the denial would create an economic hardship for the company.

Economic hardship was the basis of Newcomb’s argument. The company appealed the board’s original decision in September to the City Council, which held a public hearing Dec. 6 to consider new evidence, including more detailed financial information provided by the company and letters from state preservation officials to the city discouraging the demolition. The council sent the case back to the board so that it too could consider the new evidence. The board did not accept the company’s claim that it was unable to lease the property for enough rent to have an acceptable return on its investment. Jim Willett, the company’s attorney, said that a 10 percent profit would be a reasonable return.

The company estimates it would cost between $100,000 and $145,000 to renovate the property, which was built in 1939 and is known as the Cordell and Ophelia Dobbs House. RaShae Jennings, the city’s historic preservation coordinator, said the house is on the National Register of Historic Places, both as part of the city’s historical district and in its own right, because of its architectural style.

At the council meeting Tuesday, there was no additional public hearing. City officials could discuss the decision, but only based on the record. City Attorney Tim Butler said that because of the time frame, the council should decide that night.

Councilman Fred Hagan moved to uphold the review board, saying he had carefully studied its guidelines and the evidence from its meetings on the matter.

“I think they’ve done a responsible review. I think the reasons are in accordance with the guidelines,” he said.

Councilman Roland Williams, who seconded the motion, said Newcomb based its appeal on a claim of economic hardship that it had not proven, and that “the preponderance of the evidence” was on the side of the preservationists.

Councilman Bill Buckman differed.

“It’s not about Newcomb making money. This is a hub for all the working class people in Bardstown in the morning, getting their coffee, getting their food, taking their kids to school … for four blocks in four directions,” he said. “I vote to tear it down.”

Buckman noted that directly across the street from the property, the county government tore down “a more historical house” to make a parking lot for the Nelson County Clerk’s Office.

Councilman Bobby Simpson said he, too, was concerned about precedent and consistency. But Hagan said the city could not base its decision on what had been done before or where people get their morning coffee.

“That road has no end. We must make our decisions as the Historic Review Board did, on the guidelines,” he said.

The council voted to uphold the board by a decision of 4-1. Councilwoman Kecia Copeland abstained because she is involved with the company’s president, Jack Newcomb, in a historic preservation project regarding a former slave cabin on Plum Run Road. However, under the rules for the council’s meeting, an abstention counts with the majority.

In a voice mail Friday, Bill Newcomb, vice president of Newcomb Oil, said: “We are evaluating the decision and considering our options.”

Willett said two weeks ago that the company could, if it so chooses, appeal the decision to Nelson Circuit Court.