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Historic home on Summit Avenue razed, raising questions about what went wrong with the permitting process
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Historic home on Summit Avenue razed, raising questions about what went wrong with the permitting process

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GREENSBORO — The recent demolition of a nearly 100-year-old historic Greensboro home has neighbors stunned and seeking answers.

Built in 1923, the white house at 704 Summit Ave. was part of the Dunleath Historic District, one of three historic neighborhoods in Greensboro.

When neighbors saw the demolition beginning, many were outraged.

Mebane Ham, who lives in a 100-year-old house nearby in the Dunleath District, said she went straight to the house on Summit Avenue when she learned what was happening.

When she arrived, the demolition process was already underway.

Ham and several others urged the crew demolishing the house to stop, but then Ham received warnings on her smart watch, alerting her to potential severe weather coming their way. She retreated to her home to avoid the storm — which ultimately resulted in a tornado that tore through High Point.

“Soon after the tornado, (the house) was gone,” Ham said. “They were sitting right there, waiting to finish their job.”

“If what was supposed to happen did happen, it would not have been allowed to be torn down,” Ham said. The neighborhood would have rallied and made it a mission to save the house, she said, had the proper process been followed.

Just a few years ago, the Summit Avenue house was a “showplace,” Ham said. The owners at the time had upgraded the landscaping.

“It was a gorgeous place.”

No one was occupying the five-bedroom, two-bathroom house when demolition began on March 18, but people resided in the home about two years ago.

Given the home’s historic status, the demolition was not only a shock, but also defied North Carolina law.

Benjamin Briggs, executive director at Preservation Greensboro Inc., said that the rules that homeowners in Greensboro’s historic districts must abide by when making alterations are similar to those for people who live in an area with a homeowners association.

“For example, in many newer neighborhoods in Greensboro, a homeowners association has a design review over all the building or condos in a development,” Briggs said. “It’s regulated in terms of the landscape, the color of the vinyl siding, if additions can’t be made and things like that.”

Historic districts have similar rules, but the process for making additions, changes or demolishing a building are administered through the city of Greensboro.

Usually, the owner of a house in a historic district would submit an application to the city’s Historic District program and request permission to make a change. The request would be opened to the public for comments and participation, Briggs said.

“People in the neighborhood and throughout the city would be able to speak,” Briggs said, “and either advocate or stand against the request.”

A quasi-judicial committee of appointed citizens who have expertise in fields like historic preservation, architecture and history are then tasked with deciding if the applicant’s request is granted.

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If it is granted, a Certificate of Appropriateness is issued, a legal document that certifies the work that’s being done has been approved.

“In other words, there’s a legislated process through state law on how buildings are allowed to change or can change.”

That, Briggs said, is what should have happened to the Summit Avenue home.

“What actually happened was the applicant made a request to the city of Greensboro for demolition,” Briggs said. “And the city approved it.”

According to City Manager David Parrish, city workers visited the location after demolition was underway to determine if proper protocol was followed. Upon that visit, the demolition stopped, Parrish said in an email Friday.

“Unfortunately, the demolition was quite advanced and compromised the integrity of the structure, presenting a threat to public safety,” Parrish said.

A permit for the demolition had been issued, but not all proper permissions were granted, which includes a review of the historic nature of the structure and if a certificate of appropriateness was granted, Parrish said.

Parrish said he requested an examination of the events leading up to the demolition to determine what errors may have occurred. Based on the initial investigation, Parrish said it appears the permit technician did not see the historic district designation when issuing the permit.

As a result, Parrish said demolition permits will now require a supervisor’s review and approval.

Briggs isn’t sure why the house’s owner chose to demolish it. And in all his years of being involved in historic preservation, Briggs said he’s not aware of this kind of mistake ever happening in Guilford County.

According to a Geographic Information System search of 704 Summit Ave., the house was purchased for $150,000 by Adebayo Properties LLC on May 22, 2020. A search of the company on Open Corporates’ website initially listed Edrice Adebayo, a professional basketball player for the Miami Heat, as the agent for Adebayo Properties LLC. The registered agent was later changed to Athlete Essentials, a Kentucky-based wealth management company for professional athletes.

Records show Adebayo Properties also owns a second Greensboro home at 701 Mayflower Drive that was purchased on June 29, 2020.

Adebayo, who famously goes by “Bam,” does have Guilford County connections. The now-23-year-old basketball star played for three years at Pinetown Northside High School before spending his senior year at High Point Christian and playing one season at the University of Kentucky.

It is not evident why Adebayo bought the Greensboro properties.

According to Briggs, a careful review is occurring into what happened and how that affects the property moving forward.

“There is state law that still needs to be adhered to. This omission — it needs to be reviewed legally.

“Does this mean that this property is suddenly free of all incumbents with state law that all the other properties in the neighborhood have to adhere to? That doesn’t seem very fair.”

With the home gone, so is a piece of history.

To Briggs’ knowledge, nothing was saved from the nearly 100-year-old house, but Ham said she thinks two mantles might have been salvaged.

Through research, Briggs learned the house’s ceilings, framing and floorboards were built of Alabama pine — the “gold standard” for building material at that time, Briggs said. The lumber was supplied by Pennsylvania Lumber Co. One of the companies lumber yards was located along the railroad tracks in downtown Greensboro.

The house was commissioned by Thomas Reavis, a real estate agent, and his wife, Ima Reavis.

“It was a fantastic example of craftsman architecture,” Briggs said. “And it was unnecessarily destroyed.”

Contact Jamie Biggs at 336-373-4476 and follow @JamieBiggsNR on Twitter.

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