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Greenville commission to ECU: Let's talk about chancellor's house

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The ECU chancellor's residence, right, at 605 E. Fifth St. in the Tar River University Neighborhood of Greenville is seen in a view from across the street on the university campus. The historic Proctor-Yongue House is located to the left of the chancellor's house.


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Greenville commissioners who previously issued their approval of ECU’s plans for renovating and expanding its chancellor’s residence would like to have a word with university officials about their apparent change of plans for the house and four adjoining properties.

The Greenville Historic Preservation Commission on Tuesday approved a motion by Vice Chairman Chris Nunnally to reexamine its obligations under state statutes and seek clarification of ECU's intentions with the properties before taking up the matter again at its February meeting.

Nunnally and fellow commission member Bernie Schulz, who requested the matter be added to Tuesday's agenda, expressed concerns that the reason the commission gave its approval for the possible demolition or removal of the properties — to make way for expansion and improvements to the chancellor's residence — has changed since the private ECU Foundation confirmed its efforts to purchase a house for $1.3 million situated on 5.23 acres at Star Hill Farms, located about 5.5. miles from the current chancellor’s residence.

Commission members discussed whether ECU’s change from its expressed goal of renovating the chancellor’s residence nullifies the Certificate of Appropriateness it issued for possible demolition, requiring the university to reapply.

“The (certificate) approval was based on the premise of a renovation project. Obviously, that has changed,” Schulz said. “To my knowledge, no notification has been given to the city that the university is not moving forward with the process, so it seems a little less than transparent. I want to be sure proper procedures are being followed if those four properties are used for something other than the renovation of (the chancellor’s residence).”  

Nunnally said he wanted to explore the legal aspects of the situation. ECU’s Nov. 9 bid for relocation was the second approved by the commission. The first bid expired in October with no responses. Each COA expires after six months if no bids to buy the properties are received.

“But given that the purpose of the certificate was for the university to expand the chancellor’s residence as an event site ... and the ECU representative stated under oath that there was no plan at the time to move the chancellor’s residence from that street, I think that, at a bare minimum, if the university is no longer complying with the conditions of that COA, we need to look into whether we should ask that they reapply,” he said.

Nunnally said he was responding to “a significant public outcry” that the city would be losing properties on the grid.

“Given that the chancellor’s residence, which has historically been a part of the university, is going to be relocated, there is an extremely strong public interest that we take strong steps to do everything we can to save a very integral part of history,” he said.

Schulz said he did not think the ECU Foundation felt a sense of urgency to contract for the purchase of the Star Hill Farms home, considering it had been on the market for 1,300 days — about 3.5 years — when efforts to buy it got underway. He recommended that the city contact ECU administrators to get them engaged in talks about the future of the chancellor’s house and the properties around it.

“They need to do what they need to move forward, but we also have an obligation to maintain the historical integrity of the (chancellor’s) property and the four surrounding ones,” he said. “That’s a whole city block we’re talking about, and is not insignificant to the fiber of the city.”

Assistant City Manager Ken Graves, who oversees the city’s development office, suggested that the commissioners take time to reexamine all the details of that led to their COA approval. He also suggested that the commissioners turn to the city staff to reach out to ECU leadership to discuss what their intentions are for the residence and surrounding properties from this point forward.

“I think that would be the reasonable approach to learn what this commission’s best options are, and then proceed from that point,” Graves said.

Commission members voted unanimously to do that, and placed the matter on their Feb. 13 agenda.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.