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Council, family agree on timeline for Burks house

The city of Pilot Point and the Harris family gained traction on finding a solution to the question of what to do about the house at 522 East Burks Street.

Since 2014, the structure at that address has been considered by the city staff to be substandard and thus a hazard. However, the core portion of the house consists of a former African-American one-room schoolhouse that the family deeply wants to preserve.

“OK, so as I understand this from your meeting, we should probably adopt this order as substandard, then deem it historical, and then give them a time period, either 30 up to 90 days, to determine a time period for them to remove the added addition and bring it back down to the historical one-room,” Mayor Shea Dane-Patterson said.

She repeated the process with nearly verbatim language multiple times, adding in changes as needed as the discussion progressed.

The council voted that the family is required to report to Development Services Director John Taylor every 30 days about the progress of the project and will come before the council at the Jan. 27 meeting.

Between the Sept. 23 City Council meeting and Monday’s meeting, Taylor, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Porter and council member Matt McIlravy met with deceased owner Melvin Harris’ grandchildren, Alicia Stafford, Cecelia Harris and Ely Sledge Jr., which Porter described as “a very good meeting.”

“We did have a good meeting to sit down and discuss this and come up with a mutual decision,” Stafford said.

The plan they had developed was adopted by the council with minimal changes.

Once completed, the renovation project will remove any of the additions made to change the one-room school into a house, which the city can then recognize as of historic significance. That allows the city to evaluate the building more leniently than a house that is supposed to be occupied.

There will be no bathroom or running water in the building, and only bare minimum electrical work will be required. That work will need to be up to code, Taylor said.

The original structure served African-American students in what was first the Lincoln Academy that became the Oakdale School.

Leaving it in a section of town that has been traditionally an African-American neighborhood was highly important to the Harris’ descendants.

“Our biggest concern is trying to keep it in the neighborhood and being on the same page,” Harris said.

She added that the family is happy to move forward and has been waiting to be able to throughout the process.

For months, the house has been surrounded by a city-funded fence because the city leaders were concerned about the security of the building. The mayor said she was concerned about the city’s liability if the fence comes down.

“The city has been made aware of the risk and liability,” Dane-Patterson said. “By the grace of God, nothing has happened, so we haven’t been held accountable for it, but if we take this fence down, it’s—”

“You’re shifting the responsibility back to the property owner now to fix it,” Messer said.

Since the fence was erected, the family has been told they could not make any alterations to the building, they said.

Because of the cost of renting the fence and because of its proximity to their grandfather’s house, the family requested being able to use orange netting as a means of securing the property instead. The council granted that after some deliberation and once city attorney Andy Messer weighed in, saying he believed that was “a reasonable alternative” to the fence.

The city also, at the family’s request, voted to waive part of the permit fees that cover indirect costs but not those associated with costs the city has to spend for outside work, similar to how it handled the request from Pilot Point ISD for the band hall expansion project.

The council committed to looking into the drainage issues along Burks Street.

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