After a months-long battle, Escambia County Circuit Court Judge Gary Bergosh announced today that the Sunday House at 302 W. Romana St. in downtown Pensacola must be demolished.
A demolition permit was issued in May but was stayed pending the litigation. That permit is now active once again, and a city spokesman said Friday that demolition work could begin at any time.
Developer Charles Liberis has sought to tear down the 115-year-old home, located near Pensacola’s downtown core, in order to build 27 townhomes. Frustrated by routine delays imposed by the city’s architectural review board in order to explore preservation, Liberis filed suit last month, asking the court to order the city to issue a demolition permit immediately.
The order by Bergosh calls for a demolition permit to be issued “as promptly as administratively possible.”
John Sunday, one of Pensacola’s most significant African-American historical figures, built the house in 1901 and lived there until his death in 1925. The son of a slave woman and her white owner, Sunday fought for the Union in the Civil War before returning to Pensacola, where he built a successful construction business and served as a city alderman and state legislator during Reconstruction. After Jim Crow laws pushed black businesses off Palafox Street in the early 20th century, Sunday helped establish the Belmont-Devilliers area as a black commercial district.
In addition to ruling the house must be razed, the Court found that the Architectural Review Board’s decision to table the issue at its April meeting “did not constitute action.” The court stated that under city code, the ARB has “a responsibility under the law” to render its decisions within 31 days.
The Court agreed with City Attorney Lisa Bowling’s position, in which she wrote, “Tabling the meeting does not toll the clear requirement for the Board to act within the thirty-one (31) day period as prescribed by Section 12-13-3.”
Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward praised the judge’s ruling in a statement released Friday afternoon. “Ms. Bowling interpreted the ordinance correctly and was completely on point with her position as she presented all the issues in her Memorandum of Law that she submitted on this case,” said Hayward. “With the Judge’s ruling, this will pave the way for the Paro family to sell the home to the developer and create more density and growth downtown. I am sure the developer will respect the intrinsic historical value.”