The saga of saving the Plumb family home has gone from a landmark sale and social media debate to a possible state hearing. And the property is still on the market.
“Realtors are asking for offers,” court-appointed receiver Kevin Flott said Thursday. “At some point in the very near future, the offers will stop.”
That means an Emporia developer’s announced plans for the historic mansion may not happen at all. Still, an appeal regarding those plans will be filed with the Emporia City Commission next week.
Flott, who works for Citizens State Bank of Olpe, admitted there was no deadline for bids on Plumb Place.
“Just leaving enough time to make sure we get all the offers,” Flott explained.
It emerged two months ago that an Emporia developer was the only contender. And this is where the controversy began to boil.
Emporia restoration specialist Ross MacTaggart, who lives in the Cross House across the street, is frustrated with the way the sale of the mansion has been handled as a whole.
“We all witness a home being stolen in plain sight,” MacTaggart wrote last week. “For the benefit of one person.”
MacTaggart thinks that person is Eli Fowler. The developer applied in March for permission to rezone Plumb Place and convert the former women’s shelter into a combination of apartments and indoor storage space.
The Emporia-Lyon County Metropolitan Area Planning Commission filed Fowler’s proposal in March. Then he turned it down in April.
Fowler is appealing the decision and the city commission will consider it on Wednesday, May 18.
“That’s the next step. I don’t decide anybody,” Fowler said Thursday.
He didn’t want to say much more. And Flott declined to comment on Fowler’s offer for the property.
“All offers are confidential,” he explained.
On the surface, MacTaggart doesn’t like Fowler’s apartment and storage proposal.
“The Plumb family wanted this house to be a public good, and they graciously donated it for that purpose 100 years ago,” MacTaggart said.
But MacTaggart’s suspicions of what he calls a “scandal” online go deeper than that.
MacTaggart says he filed a complaint against realtor Becky Baumgardner with the Kansas Real Estate Commission two weeks ago. He accuses her of having rejected other offers for Plumb Place, out of loyalty to Fowler.
“KREC does not confirm or deny receipt of complaints or the status of ongoing investigations,” Deputy Director Wendy Alkire told The Gazette on Thursday.
MacTaggart says the house has not been properly marketed – failing to use online resources, misrepresenting the mansion’s history and posting misleading photos. He believes the sale was set up to be virtually a closed process.
Baumgardner did not return messages for this story.
But if Baumgardner was ever the exclusive agent for the sale of Plumb Place, that is apparently no longer the case. Flott said the mansion is now offered on various listing services.
MacTaggart says he also contacted the Kansas attorney general’s office about the sale, but was told that couldn’t help him.
He admitted to The Gazette last week that in recent days he has seen “significant change” in the management of Plumb Place, with the acceptance of new offers and showings.
But a Thursday blog post added: “Something always seems…wrong.”
MacTaggart says he’s had a passion for historic buildings since he was young. The Chase County Leader-News spoke with him earlier this spring about renovations to the Strong City Opera House.
MacTaggart is so passionate that about a week ago he climbed the fire escape at Plumb Place and took several pictures of the roof.
“There’s this story that the roof needs a total replacement,” he explained. “It looks brand new…it’s in perfect condition,” having been replaced four years ago.
MacTaggart has heard unconfirmed reports that a check for $40,000 for roof repairs awaits the Plumb Place buyer.
“It seems there is also an insurance scam going on here,” he said.
But MacTaggart has scoffers. Some left comments on blogs accusing him of promoting “conspiracy theories”.
For example, MacTaggart noted that Fowler’s proposed application to the Planning Commission included a “zoning contingency”, which Fowler has now deleted.
“It happens a lot,” said Emporia planning director Justin Givens, “when you have residential land or commercial land.” The sale was conditional on Plumb Place passing residential R-3 zoning.
MacTaggart says he is not interested in buying the Plumb house and does not represent any potential buyers. But he says he knows people who are willing to pay more for the mansion than Fowler.
MacTaggart offered his own renovation idea in a March blog post: “a small, upscale hotel and event space…that would leave the mansion largely as is.”
He fears a private mansion could be demolished for a fast food stand, even though it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“A listing on the National Registry provides ZERO protection,” MacTaggart blogged in March.
Another mystery for MacTaggart is the fact that Eli Fowler is the son of Lyon County District Judge W. Lee Fowler.
The judge oversaw the creation of a Plumb Place board of directors as the shelter closed in late 2020.
Mickey Edwards, who heads the outgoing Plumb Place steering committee, said Judge Fowler backed out of the project once he learned his son was offering to buy it.
A request for a record from the Lyon tribunal de grande instance on the case was not returned by our deadline. But Edwards recalled the original deadline for bids as Wednesday, December 15, 2021.
“I didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole because I’m not sure there’s anything at the end,” MacTaggart said.
While others might focus on the Plumb Place building, Edwards worries about the women who were helped there. She said last week that the shelter’s closure had left a big void in the community.
“We are about to have the financial wherewithal to relaunch this agency,” Edwards said during a lunch at United Way of the Flint Hills.
But it all depends on the property being sold, as the proceeds will be used for women’s shelter projects.
“I still hear from community partners, who get calls from people who we would previously have referred to Plumb Place on a weekly or sometimes daily basis,” Edwards said Thursday.
Flott says the controversy over Plumb Place goes beyond the story.
“It’s a huge property, in terms of square footage,” he said. “It brings a lot of ideas, a lot of potential buyers, to the table.”
As for debate, Flott is like Eli Fowler. Both say they are not active on social media.
“I stick to my business and take care of what I need,” Flott said.
“The less I know, the easier,” Fowler said.