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Pensacola city officials are expected to issue a demolition permit for the historic John Sunday House, a city spokesperson said Monday.

The house, located at 302 West Romana Street, was built in 1901 by John Sunday, one of Pensacola’s most prominent and successful African-American figures in the late 19th and early 20th century. Sunday served as a city alderman and state legislator during Reconstruction, built a substantial construction business, and helped establish the Belmont-Devilliers area as a center for black commerce.

City spokesperson Vernon Stewart said that while a permit has not been requested by a demolition contractor, the city plans to issue such a permit once it is requested. Stewart couldn’t identify who made the decision to issue the permit, but said that the decision came after a new legal opinion was issued by City Attorney Lysia Bowling. That legal opinion was not immediately available. Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward said Monday that he had not requested the opinion.

City planner Brandi Deese sent the following email to architectural review board members on Monday afternoon:

Please be advised that the City Attorney has reviewed the application for the demolition of the structure at 302 W. Romana Street, and has determined that ARB did not act within the 31 day timeframe required in Section 12-13-3 (G) of the Land Development Code. According to Section 12-13-3 (I), such plans shall be deemed to have been approved. Per this determination, the Building Official will issue a demolition permit when an application is received.
A newsprint photo of the Sunday House from a 1904 edition of the Florida Sentinel. (UWF Historic Trust/Special to The Pulse)

A newsprint photo of the Sunday House from a 1904 edition of the Florida Sentinel. (UWF Historic Trust/Special to The Pulse)

Developers led by attorney Charles Liberis want to demolish the home and redevelop the 1.5 acre parcel with 27 townhomes. The city’s architectural review board has twice postponed a vote on demolition in order to give preservationists time to develop a plan to save the home. Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward voiced his support for the demolition in April, arguing that redevelopment of the site would provide much-needed downtown housing and help grow the city’s tax base.

Deese’s comments reference a city code provision which states that the architectural review board “shall promptly review such plans and shall render its decision on or before thirty-one (31) days from the date that plans are submitted, to the board for review.” Liberis has argued that the board’s decision to postpone a vote on demolition beyond the 31-day mark violates the code. However, the board has routinely postponed similar requests in the past, and the mayor’s office said in April that the board’s move to table a vote was effectively a decision.

John Ellis, a real estate broker and the president of the John Sunday Society, called the reversal “mindblowing,” noting that he had met earlier in the day with the UWF Historic Trust’s board of directors, which expressed support for the Society’s efforts to preserve the house. Ellis pointed to a recent situation where the ARB postponed a demolition request for a house in Old East Hill; the house was eventually relocated.

Ellis said Monday afternoon that he was consulting with legal counsel and examining the available options to stop the demolition.

The issue was expected to come back before the architectural review board on the afternoon of June 16, as well as the city council later that same day. The administrative decision to issue a demolition permit would appear to preclude further discussion by either board on the subject.

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