There is a good chance that the Springfield House, one of the oldest homes in the county, has beaten the wrecking ball.
It won’t be around for us to tour and enjoy like the Oaklands Mansion. But just to know it will still be with us is a relief in these times when it seems more natural to tear something down than to preserve it.
Charles Haskett, a principal partner in Bonavic Development of Birmingham, Ala., told the city’s planning commission Thursday that he is committed to preserving the Springfield Mansion. He said it will be a theme for his apartment and townhouse development on 17.92 acres along Manson Pike.
Haskett said the house needs a new roof, and the balcony in front has rotted.
“The shell is in pretty good shape,” Haskett said after taking at our of the mansion with some contractors, who are experts in restoration. “The entire structure up to the gables is going to have to be replaced. however.”
He said he is committed to keeping the mansion as a theme for his project, which will be called Springfield Luxury Apartments. He explained that restoring the building as something the public could tour would require installing fire protection and security alarm systems and accessible restrooms — too much for his budget.
Instead, the home will remain a residence, occupied perhaps by a groundskeeper on the property.
In an interview after the meeting, Haskett declined to put a specific figure on what he plans to spend fixing up the old house. He said it would be in the range of “tens of thousands of dollars.”
The site is also encumbered by a fairly large cave system complete with sinkholes.
Haskett said he will deal with this problem by leaving the area open. The cave system runs along the back of the property, he added.
The proposal is planned residential development, meaning the city’s planning staff will have a large say in the kind of project that emerges. It also lies within the city’s Gateway District,” meaning it has to meet higher standards than similar developments would face elsewhere.
Public meeting set on project tonight
The commission set Feb. 3rd for public hearing on Haskett’s request for the parcel to be annexed by the city and zoned as a planned residential district and Gateway Overlay District,. Meanwhile, the developer has scheduled a neighborhood meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at the Caslon Lane Academy to try to win over neighbors who helped sink his earlier development proposal last November.
Haskett’s original proposal ran into a three-pronged buzzsaw at the November council meeting. He had hoped to save time and red tape by requesting a simple rezoning to RM-16 (16 multi-dwelling units per acre). At that time, he said he couldn’t commit to saving the mansion until he had some idea of how much the repair work would cost.
The zoning request was dead on arrival. “If this doesn’t scream for a PRD (planned residential development) I don’t know what project would,” Mayor Shane McFarland, a developer himself, told Haskett.
He was also hit with brickbats from the public. Some made tearful requests to save the old house, and Councilman Eddie Smotherman accused Haskett of not being forthright in omittig any mention of the mansion earlier at a planning commission hearing.
Other residents complained of privacy issues if three-story buildings were located near their property lines.
Chuck Sutherland, a graduate student at Tennessee Technological University, said the large Military Spring cave that lies beneath the property, has caused two big sinkholes on the west and northern sides of the parcel.
Two big sinkholes
Sutherland estimated that the cave could be as long at 1200 feet. A 1988 environmental impact report put the cave length at about 100 feet.
There was no public discussion of the number of units Haskett plans to build in the planned residential development. His original request would have permitted him to build at least 277 apartment units.
Commissioner Kathy Jones complained about a planned clubhouse for the project, which she said looked like a “plain Jane” design.Haskett said he didn’t want to mimic the mansion of detract from it. But he promised there would be more design work done on the clubhouse as planning for the development proceeds.
Concessions by city planners
The city has agreed to relax its parking standards somewhat to permit the development to go ahead. The regulations call for 1.5 parking spaces for a one-bedroom unit, 2.2 spaces for two-bedroom apartments and 3.3 spaces for three-bedroom living units. Instead, Hasket will provide 1.5, 2 and 3 spaces for the three types. He will also be allowed to count 75% of all “tandem” spaces (parking on a drive in front of a garage the residents can rent) toward the requirement.
The Springfield Mansion was built sometime between 1805 and 1809 when Thomas Jefferson was president. It may be the first frame house that was ever built in this county and most likely the first built of bricks, which were made on the grounds.