Montopolis School property owner tells his side of story

The Montopolis School for Negro Children educated black kids from 1935-1962. After that it was repurposed into a church. Developer Austin Stowell bought the land two years ago, and has been surrounded in controversy ever since.

“We had no idea of what we were purchasing,” said Stowell.

Stowell hopes to rezone the property from single family, to mixed use commercial-historic.

“It would make excellent office space, we've explored other options, including a public/private event space,” said Stowell.

But some community members don't want any type of commercial use. Local historian Dr. Fred McGhee mentioned what he'd like to see at a community meeting back in July.

“We would like it to be preserved as a park and museum. We would like to do heritage preservation based development,” said McGhee.

“I can understand the situation is frustrating for all parties. You have a situation where the neighborhood wants to be preserved as a park but at this point it's private property,” said Stowell.

Stowell's request passed the historic landmark commission. However, just last week, planning and zoning unanimously denied his request, putting rezoning on hold.

“A unanimous vote is not what I expected,” said Stowell.

It is possible city council could negotiate buying the property from Stowell.

“At this point, the decision is whether or not to purchase the property. Later on down the road I assume they can rezone the property to "p" which would be public or park,” said Stowell.

Stowell admits he didn't know what he got himself into, however he sees the historic value of the Montopolis School, and hopes everyone can come to an agreement. He has no plans to demolish the property.

“The community and I have the same goal which is to preserve the structure, the path on how we get there is where we disagree,” said Stowell.