Public funds will not be used to relocate and restore the historic Cullars home — a project that could have cost the city up to $1 million had the Auburn City Council approved it.
At its meeting this week, the council opposed a resolution that would have committed the city to spending that money by a 6-2 vote. Councilman Kelley Griswold was absent from the meeting.
Whether the city should be the one to save the home, which sits at the corner of Samford Avenue and South College Street has been a hot topic ever since Councilwoman Beth Witten and Councilman Brett Smith asked city staff to look into options for saving the house at a meeting in July. The home is in danger of being demolished if no entity or individual provides a letter of intent to move the home to the current property owner by the end of the month.
Both Smith and Witten said they could not justify spending public funds on such a project.
Smith, whose law office has been located in the Cullars home for the past five years, said the matter is personal to him. He garnered public input through surveys on Facebook and NextDoor app — both reflected a majority that did not support the city moving the home — and started a GoFundMe for relocating the house, which has only raised $450 of $1 million after being created on Aug. 27.
It was also mentioned that Auburn University opted to not be a part of relocating the home and the Auburn Parks and Recreation Advisory Board put out a statement that they did not have a significant use for the home.
"I’ve been passionate about it, I brought the subject up because I hoped and prayed the private sector would reach out. I set up my own private GoFundMe. We’ve not reached the goal," Smith said. "As a City Council member, I want to have this debate and this discussion about the future of our community. That’s a very historic home, but when I balance out the equities, when I look at all the individual taxpayers in this community, I cannot commit to spending that type of money.
"This is the weight that’s been put on us. The council has voluntarily taken this conversation on so that we could hear from the community."
For Witten, that weight is one that should not be put on the government. She challenged residents who live in historic homes to protect them.
"The reason I felt very compelled to bring this to this level was so that we could have this conversation, and I’m glad we had it. I believe in preservation but I also believe in property rights, and preservation starts with your own self and your own property and should not be the responsibility of this government," she said. "Hopefully, this challenges those who do have historic homes that are not part of the one and only historic preservation neighborhood that we have in Auburn, which resides in wards two and three, to protect your homes."
Councilmen Steven Dixon and Bob Parsons were the only members present to vote for the resolution. A statement from Griswold said that he would have voted for it as well had he been present.
Parsons said he felt supporting the resolution was the will of the residents in his ward, and he also felt it was the right thing to do. He went as far as to say the city should take a more active role in preservation.
"We should bring to a vote the allocation of funds to hire a consultant to identify all of Auburn’s historically significant structures as well as to create a comprehensive preservation plan," he said. "We should pro-actively move to consider and create historic districts, historic overlay districts or conservation overlays in order to avoid further minute-to-midnight situations."