Observers say a plan to turn a Fayetteville antebellum mansion into a school was an exercise in futility. The operator of a private academy wants to convert a Morganton Road home known as Fair Oaks into a small, private middle school. Christy Pettit took on dozens of Haymount’s wealthy residents at a public hearing last week and lost. Her request for a special use permit was turned down by the Fayetteville Zoning Commission in a unanimous vote. Pettit will take her case before Fayetteville City Council on March 29.

According to the Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau, E.J. Lilly began construction of Fair Oaks in 1858. It stayed in the family for 100 years and was most recently owned by Dr. and Mrs. Albert Stewart Jr. The five-bedroom, four-bath, 4,700 sq. ft. mansion is located on a one-and-a-half-acre lot with several out buildings at the fork of the Fort Bragg Road crossover, which is in the heart of one of Fayetteville’s oldest neighborhoods. The house incorporates a Georgian plan with Greek Revival and Italianate elements. 

During General Sherman’s occupation of Fayetteville in 1865, some of the Union troops camped on the grounds. It’s said that Sherman and his officers occupied the house itself. A silver tray bearing bullet holes of Sherman’s soldiers, who used the tray for target practice, still remains in the Lilly family. 

Pettit has an option to buy the house for $599,000. The two-story white house has been on the market for three years. Pettit said she would preserve the structure and renovate the bathrooms and kitchen. “This house is slowly deteriorating,” Pettit testified at the Zoning Commission meeting. Her interest in the house is two-fold: Pettit told the Zoning Commission she has an interest in preserving history while providing quality education. She would like to add to her private school known as First Impressions Academy across town with a second campus. 

The Zoning Commission agreed with city staff that Dobbin Avenue, which provides access to the property, is too narrow to accommodate the traffic that would be generated by a school. Staff recommended denial of the special use permit because of what planner Greg Harmon said would be traffic issues. Dobbin Avenue is off Morganton Road. It leads to Lilly Avenue, a short lane at the rear of the property. Dobbin Avenue and the parallel Magnolia Avenue are almost unique in Fayetteville. They were built in the 1920s in the “horse and buggy days” and would not meet city street standards today. 

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