Still on list — for now

Published 9:50 pm Friday, July 2, 2010

A spokesman for the state Department of Historic Resources says it has not yet begun any investigation into the work being done on the historic estate of Suffolk benefactor Amedeo Obici.

Obici House and the surrounding land, originally known as Bay Point Farm, are listed on state and national registers of historic places. Both are honorary listings that have no regulatory effect.

Some have expressed concern that work on the Sleepy Hole Golf Course site, which has included removing both porches and part of the kitchen on Obici House and demolishing the Carriage House, would threaten its place on the lists.

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The city is performing the work, which it says is necessary because of structural concerns, in preparation for turning the building over to leaseholder Ronnie Rountree. Work began in June.

The home is the estate of Suffolk benefactor and Planters Peanuts founder Amedeo Obici. Upon his death, Obici left nearly his entire estate to Suffolk residents for the improvement of health care in the city.

Randy Jones, a spokesman for the state Department of Historic Resources, said this week his department was unaware of the ongoing work until local newspapers published articles on it. He said the department would investigate the project, but that it tries to keep properties on the registers if possible.

“We’re really not talking about de-listing at all right now,” he said. “Obviously, we would hope efforts would be made to retain enough of the integrity and restore porches and things of that nature.”

Properties can be removed from the registers, Jones said.

“There’s always a risk that if you remove too much of the historic fabric, something can be de-listed,” Jones said. But, he added, “We’re more about listing properties than de-listing something. We’d really just have to go out and investigate this.”

Jones said a meeting likely would be held with Rountree at some point to get a better idea of his plans for the building. Rountree said last month he hopes to make Obici House into a special events venue, adding he intends to restore the porches and kitchen.

“Anything that is done to restore the house to the way it was would certainly help,” Jones said. “The bottom line is you want any unsympathetic changes to be corrected.”

De-listing properties does not happen often, Jones said, but it does happen for various reasons. No property in Suffolk has ever been placed on the registers and then removed, he said, though it has happened to properties in Virginia Beach and Norfolk.

“It does happen,” Jones said. “It’s not where we like to head with this.”

Jones said the department would tread carefully in its consideration of the home’s status.

“With a house of that importance in terms of its connection to the Suffolk community, we would want to move carefully on any consideration of de-listing,” he said.