HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Huntsville city council has revoked the license allowing the owner of the Kildare Estate mansion to build a fence around his property.
The vote passed 3-0 with an abstention from councilman Will Culver.
“I had requested several continuances of this item in an effort to work out an agreement with Mr. Wright regarding an amended license agreement with a reduced size fence and those negotiations came to an end today when I was notified by his attorney that he was not willing to accept the limitations imposed by the city,” City Attorney Peter Joffrion told those inside council chambers Thursday night.
Kildare property co-owner Dwight Wright’s attorney Julian Butler - former Madison County Attorney for 23 years - told the council Peter Joffiron had been very accommodating over the past 6 months of negotiations, but said that just wasn’t good enough for his clients.
“Unfortunately, only Mr. Joffiron was available,” Butler said. “We had asked, but we were never able to sit down at a table with all of the decision makers in regard to this fence.”
The city is maintaining they have ‘bent over backwards’ to accommodate the homeowners’ request to construct a privacy structure. But Dwight Wright says concessions seemed to only go in ‘one direction.’
Friday we spoke to parties on both sides of the proverbial fence.
It all started with a need for privacy.
“We have had people throw rocks at the house, we have people throw rocks at us,” Wright told WHNT News 19 during an interview in late May.
To understand the need to build a fence on city right-of-way, however, you have to go back to the 1930s when original street plans were drawn up. The Kildare property line does not go to the street. In order to build the fence on their own property, the fence would have to back up 13 to 28 feet into the Kildare yard – essentially placing the fence at the front door.
Wright says he requested a 10 year agreement with the city - 3 years with a non-revocable clause, with the license termed revocable for the remaining 7 years if the city deemed necessary – or ‘at will.’ Wright says the city said no to that proposal, saying those terms were non-negotiable.
“Which meant to me they could immediately request that it be taken down - and yet again it would only take 3 votes from the council to do that,” Wright explains.
“The city – we love historic buildings, we have a historic board,” said Huntsville City Councilman Bill Kling Friday.
He says the council in voting to revoke Wright’s license was simply protecting taxpayers’ interest in regard to liability. If someone rammed into the structure in their car and we’re killed or seriously injured for example, the city would be on the hook, Kling says.
“We asked for certain things that were reasonable and they turned us down flat,” Kling claims.
Certain ‘reasonable’ things like requiring a half-a-million to a million dollar liability insurance policy at the home owner’s expense. Wright claims even half-a-million dollars is about 5 times the amount the city would usually take out on such a structure.
“When you say that I walked away – each time terms were presented I was told that these terms were non-negotiable – you don’t have a choice,” Wright said of Kling’s characterization of the dealings.
Kling says while the issue doesn’t ‘have much of a heartbeat’ it’s not dead.
“They still have the option if they want to move everything back off the city right-of-way and they can build it as high as they want to, ” Kling smarted.
Wright says when it comes to the fence – and any hope of continuing on the trajectory of restoring the historic home – it’s all just too little, too late.
“There’s a sense of disappointment, there’s a sense of loss that goes with what happened,” Wright laments. “And it’s not loss over a fence because this was much bigger than a fence - and that’s going to be hard for a lot of people to understand.”
Wright says the decision undoubtedly changes the trajectory of the mission to restore the historic home. The intention was to eventually open up the ground level to the public for events – or even 4 luxurious hotel suites on the second level in the style of a classic bed and breakfast for the public to enjoy.
“What a jewel for north Huntsville,” Kildare co-owner Delila VanLandingham told council members.
“I had no idea this dream would become a 6, almost 7 year nightmare,” she said as she spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting.
The city maintains there were basic requests Dwight Wright wouldn’t cooperate on like detailing intended materials for the fence and providing a site plan.
Wright claims he and his attorney were nothing but cooperative until they were handed what he calls ’11th hour’ changes and amended demands and terms just one day before Thursday’s council meeting.
Wright officially has 60 days to take the fence down or agree and comply with city terms.