Plan protects Obici House

Published 10:16 pm Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In front of a standing room only audience Wednesday evening, the Suffolk City Council approved a measure that might ultimately save the historic Obici House.

The council unanimously agreed to include the home and property in an existing lease the city currently has with James R. Rountree LLC, current operators of the Sleepy Hole Golf Course.

Last Thursday, Ronnie Rountree presented an unsolicited bid to the city, offering to restore the home and include it in his plans for the golf course’s development.

During the council’s previous meeting on Jan. 6, the former home of Planters Peanuts founder Amedeo Obici had a very uncertain future, but the decision Wednesday at least assures the home will not be demolished.

And while groups supporting the restoration of the home were pleased the home would be spared, they were anything but excited about the proposed plan.

“There was not a whole lot of information presented tonight in why the council accepted Mr. Rountree’s proposal,” Citizens for the Preservation of Obici House (CPOH) board member Mary Jane Naismith said. “We are happy that Mr. Rountree has agreed to restore the house, but restore it to what condition remains the question.”

Even members of the Obici family showed concern about the last-minute proposal by Rountree and the lack of any clear plans.

“I am not sure if the home is in good hands,” Obici’s great-niece and lone living family member who knew Obici, Jolyne Dalzell, said following the council’s decision. “I am not sure if he is going to restore it.”

Dalzell, who urged the council to protect the home last year, did so again Wednesday, encouraging the council to “not only renovate the home, but restore the home.”

Rountree did not attend Wednesday’s council meeting, nor did city staff present any details of how Rountree would incorporate the home into the capital improvements planned for the golf course. The staff also did not provide any details on why they had accepted Rountree’s offer over those by other organizations seeking to restore the home.

“I am pleased Mr. Rountree stepped up and has agreed to save the home,” CPOH president Susan Blair said. “We are here to help in any way to help ensure the home is preserved and restored. We’re just concerned at the lack of any details tonight.”

After the council’s vote, Mayor Linda Johnson said she was pleased to have the matter resolved.

“I do hope this is a good ending to a story that Suffolk wants to keep and Suffolk wants to do right,” Johnson said.