What Local Historic District DOES NOT do: · Does not regulate paint colors · Does not require repairs or renovations to be made · Does not increase taxes beyond normal increases for the City or County · Does not prevent additions · Does not prevent non-contributing homes from being demolished · Does not require use of historic materials or historic building methods · Does not require that you open you home to the public · Does not restrict routine maintenance of properties
What Local Historic District DOES do: · Recognizes that Oakhurst has a distinctive historic character important to the overall character of the City of Decatur · Encourages creative and compatible development with historic areas · Requires that a Certificate of Appropriateness be obtained for exterior changes to contributing properties, demolition of buildings, and new construction. · Applies only to major renovations to the exterior of your home. Interior renovations are not restricted.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Quote from National Trust for Historic Preservation President

“The pace of teardowns has amounted to an orgy of irrational destruction. Teardowns spread through a community like a cancer. I believe they represent the biggest threat to America's older neighborhoods since the heyday of urban renewal and interstate highway construction. Communities must realize that they aren't helpless in the face of teardowns. They must develop a vision for the future of their community...and put in place mechanisms to ensure that their vision is not compromised.” Richard Moe, President, National Trust for Historic Preservation June 28, 2006

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What is a bungalow anyway?

But what is a bungalow anyway? Where does the term come from? And what is so great about this architectural style?

Most dictionaries are explicit: a bungalow is a one- or one-and- a-half story dwelling. Good enough, except that since the period when most bungalows were constructed – roughly 1880 to 1930 in the United States – literally every type of house has at one time been called a bungalow. Two-story houses built on the grounds of hotels are still called bungalows, for example. And to further muddy the definition, the great Southern California architect Charles Sumner Greene went out of his way to call his Gamble house (1909) in Pasadena, Calif., a bungalow. Instead, the Gamble house is a sprawling two-story residence with a third-floor pool room.

A bungalow’s distinction is its low profile. There are no vertical bungalows even though in a few cities such as Sacramento, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, the basically horizontal house type is raised on high foundations. Promotional literature in the early 20th century almost always noted the chief purpose of the bungalow: to place most of the living spaces on one floor. The advantages are obvious–the absence of a second story simplifies the building process. Utilities can be installed more easily than in a two-story house. Safety is at a premium because, in the event of fire, windows as well as doors offer easy escape. Best of all, the bungalow allows staircases to be eliminated, a boon for the elderly and also for the homemaker, who can carry out household tasks without a lot of trips up the stairs.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

At the turn of the century bungalows took America by storm!

At the turn of the century bungalows took America by storm. These small houses, some costing as little as $900, helped fulfill many Americans’ wishes for their own home, equipped with all the latest conveniences. Central to the bungalow’s popularity was the idea that simplicity and artistry could harmonize in one affordable house. The mania for bungalows marked a rare occasion in which serious architecture was found outside the realm of the rich. Bungalows allowed people of modest means to achieve something they had long sought: respectability. With its special features – style, convenience, simplicity, sound construction, and excellent plumbing – the bungalow filled more than the need for shelter. It provided fulfillment of the American dream.

The bungalow was practical, and it symbolized for many the best of the good life. On its own plot of land, with a garden, however small, and a car parked out front, a bungalow provided privacy and independence. To their builders and owners, bungalows meant living close to nature, but also with true style.

Sounds like an idea, a sense of place, a historic mark we should protect.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The question of the goal of the local historic district is often asked

The question of the goal of the local historic district is often asked. I found this as part of a local historic district near Pasadena. It sums up the goals pretty nicely:

a) To promote community pride and unity by recognizing that the area is important as a historic resource.
b) To promote the preservation and enhancement of the historic character and architectural integrity of the district.
c) To assist homeowners and others with restoration, alteration, or new construction to eliminate unnecessary demolition, destruction and neglect and to ensure that the architectural qualities of the district are maintained and preserved.
d) To protect the single-family character of this neighborhood.
e) To enhance residential property values within the district.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Local Historic District Goals as stated for Akron, OH Historic District

Historic preservation is a continuum of choices affecting the landscape and buildings. This continuum includes maintenance of features that are historicially, architecturally, and culturally significant. Contemporary use can be achieved while retaining distinctive features.
When we develop land and build structures, preservation adds economic value. Preservation requires the establishment and adherence to a set of standards. The cost of adhering to a set of standards is reasonable considering that good design elements add economic value to the larger community.

Minimum standards established by the community in conjunction with the City, relating to aesthetics, appropriateness, and architectural compatibility, would be enforced in conditional zoning or zoning overlay of local historic district. In a historic district, changes in structures would be permitted to occur only when such changes are consistent with the preservation goals of the neighborhood that has established an historic district, unless health or safety concerns require an exception.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

What are you really trying to protect?

Yet another comment from an earlier post...
"Further, as one of your earlier posts pointed out, infill is not occurring in the proposed district at the rate it is occurring in other parts of the City or Oakhurst (providing the exact addresses in which infill has occurred in the proposed district would be of assistance in this debate). So, what is it you are really trying to protect? "

As the nominators for the proposed local historic district we think that we have done a good job on this blog explaining what we are really trying to protect. The nomination for the proposed Oakhurst local historic district was made in an effort to preserve the unique local character of the neighborhood. The historic elements of the neighborhood have been documented in historic surveys.

It is true that the majority of demolitions in the City of Decatur are in the Oakhurst area. It is true that the boundaries of the proposed district have fewer demolitions than the surrounding Oakhurst area. These facts support our assertion that the proposed district remains the most intact area of Oakhurst and represents the historic settling of the area. Therefore, it is the area in most dire need of protection while we still have something to protect.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

I for one moved to this neighborhood for the diversity and "character" that such diversity provides.

"I for one moved to this neighborhood for the diversity and "character" that such diversity provides. If Oakhurst is designated as a LHD, the diversity of Oakhurst and such character is likely to be jeopardized, which presents a real and valid concern for many of our neighbors who truly value diversity. "

This is a comment from an earlier post. It is not true that LHD will jeopardize the diversity of Oakhurst. The majority of residents we speak to in and outside of the proposed local historic district state their number one concern is losing the character of the neighborhood. The second most frequent concern is losing the diversity of the neighborhood. As posted on an earlier post "Neighborhood character is expressed in at least two distinctive elements: the physical landscape and the social dynamic. Many inner city neighborhoods have the physical building blocks present to be successful, sustainable communities that provide homes for residents throughout their life cycles. Single-family homes come in small, medium and large sizes and price ranges." This mirrors the concerns of the neighborhood. The first and most important element of the local historic district is to preserve the historic landscape - meaning architecture, view from the street, set backs, sidewalks, etc. This is the first impression, if you will, of the character. As mentioned in another previous post older neighborhoods that have a local historic district do a better job of preserving the mix of people in their neighborhood. Why? Because there is a variety of single-family homes from small, medium, and large that have a variety of price ranges. This provides housing for people throughout their life, through their many cycles of life. If every home was replaced by a new home priced at $600,000 we would lose that very diversity. Studies support that older neighborhoods with a local historic district do a better job reflecting the racial and socio-economic mix of the community at large. New construction tends to segregate both racially and socio-economically.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What is neighborhood character??

Neighborhood character is expressed in at least two distinctive elements: the physical landscape and the social dynamic. Many inner city neighborhoods have the physical building blocks present to be successful, sustainable communities that provide homes for residents throughout their life cycles. Single-family homes come in small, medium and large sizes and price ranges. Duplexes and small apartment buildings are sprinkled in, encouraging today's renters to become tomorrow's home purchasers. Nearby commercial structures offer the potential for locating neighborhood services within walking distance. Other physical elements can enhance the area - street trees and wide sidewalks for shaded walking, varied architecture for an interesting streetscape. Neighborhood character is not solely created through the physical landscape. The people who live in a neighborhood provide the flavor and attitude for that section of the city. The flavor can be ethnic, provided by long-time residents or created simply because a preferred lifestyle is more easily accomplished in that particular physical landscape.

Currently the only tool available for protecting our neighborhood’s unique historic character is local historic district. We welcome any comments and/or suggestions for other methods that you believe are currently available. If they are not currently available let’s talk about the time frame for implementing new suggestions.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Is there any reason we should not expect benefits and success in Oakhurst as a result of LHD?

Local Historic Districts have been successful in preserving historic character while allowing growth in West End, Castleberry Hill, and in Decatur including the MAK Historic District right down the street. Is there any reason we should not expect similar benefits and success in Oakhurst?

Oakhurst, like all of the City of Decatur, has a lot going for it. It has a government that took the time to plan well in advance so that it could become the kind of place people want to live. The community that lives here are proud, social and giving, which makes for a nice place to live. We have wonderful architectural character. All of these factors indicate that Local Historic District could successfully protect the historic character of the neighborhood while allow growth and retaining diversity while being economically sustainable.

The overwhelming majority of the people I have heard from in this neighborhood are concerned about losing the historic character of our neighborhood. Unfortunately, many people are being told that LHD will not allow them to take advantage of the maximum square footage allowed under current zoning and/or that current zoning is sufficient to protect the unique historic character of the neighborhood. Both of these assertions are false. To make matters worse it appears that the new zoning will actually allow for bigger houses and more potential for loss of homes in Oakhurst.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Outside of Local Historic District designation, what can be done to make sure that we do not lose over 100years of history?

The complete destruction of the Beacon Hill neighborhood has taught us that by destroying the housing of a community you eventually destroy the history because there is no longer any representation of said community. Outside of Local Historic District designation, what can be done to make sure that the nearly 100 years of historic character of this area is not lost?

Under the current zoning for the City of Decatur the only method of preseving the historic character is Local Historic District. Under any currently proposed zoning for the City of Decatur the only method of preserving the historic character is Local Historic District.

Other cities, including the City of Atlanta, are attempting to preserve the character of a neighborhood through stricter zoning and other new overlays. However, we have not found any that have been in place sufficient time to present any results of their efforts.

Oakhurst has lost approximately or estimated at 1 home per month to demolition over the past five years. We are seeing the impact of that level of development on the character of our neighborhood. To consider methods outside of Local Historic District at this time would mean more delays and more loss. Just consider that changes to infill zoning has taken nearly 2 years and is yet to be implemented. What would your street look like if you lost 20 houses to demolition?

Monday, August 20, 2007

The multitude of flyers makes the question of how LHD will affect property values confusing

There have been multiple flyers circulated to residents lately. One flyer states that Local Historic District can make my property value go down. Another flyer states that Local Historic District will make my property values increase and therefore increase my property taxes. Which statement is accurate.

First, yes your taxes will increase if your property values increase. Most residents purchase their homes in hopes that the value will increase in an effort to increase their equity and personal wealth. At the very least we do not want our investment to decrease.

The question of whether Local Historic District increases or decreases property values is a difficult question to answer because there are so many factors that can impact property values. There are a number of studies listed on this blog site throughout June and July and we encourage you to read them all. Our research has shown that of all the studies we could find there are about 80% that say Local Historic District is good for property values and 15% that show some negative impact. The other studies indicate that the affect may be more neutral because Local Historic District is often sought once a neighborhood becomes desirable and then experiences threats to the historic character. We did find one study that stated that Local Historic Districts are protected from downfalls in the real estate market.

There are numerous studies that indicate that maintaining the character of the neighborhood is good for property values. Wide variations in housing architectural styles or wide variances in the look of a home from the street make an area less desirable. It loses its curb appeal. This is not to say there can not be any individuality or variance in homes and does not endorse the monolithic styling of many new neighorhoods. This is not to say that all homes should be the same size. A 1200 square foot home and 3600 square foot home can reside side by side without violating either the principals of archtectural similarity or look from the street. This harmony is not easy but can maintain the unique character of a neighborhood, maintain diversity in housing size and price, maintain diversity in residents, and maintain consistent property value increases.

Local Historic District is not just about preserving or increasing property values. Historic preservation is a program just out of its infancy when compared to preservation of other resources. In the beginning what was thought important to preserve was old, largely internationally signficant sights. Many of them were related to wars. Next came the preservation of the homes or scenes from the life of someone nationally famous. Why? Because a place says a lot about what makes a person and give you a sense of time and place that words on a plaque can not convey. Next came the preservation of events or people that were not so old. Because as we become a more populous nation we began to lose our resources rapidly. Now there is great value place on areas that still convey the sense of place of ordinary lives. We live in such a place. Oakhurst represents the defining architecture for Decatur as it entered its biggest building boom. It also clearly illustrates the transition from rail to trolley to car and back to rail. This is a valuable resource that many resident feel we need to preserve. Every home that is needlessly torn down removes some of that history. We do not advocate no demolition or no new construction or no renovation. Rather we advocate smart demolition, smart development, smart new construction and smart renovation that provides a win-win for our neighborhood.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Under current zoning do we as a community have any right to input regarding the various commercial properties?

There are a number of large tracts of property zoned commercial within the proposed Local Historic District boundaries. It is well known that most are being strongly considered for sale and redevelopment. Clearly the type and quality of the development will impact the majority of the residents in Oakhurst. Under current zoning do we as a community have any right to input regarding the type of development? If we were a Local Historic District would we have more input?

Boys and Girls Club is considering relocating. The zoning for this 5.5 acres+ lot is R60. R60 Zoning uses without public hearing include single-family dwellings, elementary, middle, and secondary schools, public utilities, public buildings, churches, and family personal care homes. There is sufficient room for a planned residential development. Under the proposed new infill guidelines the homes can get progressively taller.

Thankful Baptist Church is zoned institution and comprises 3.82 acres+
Institutional zoning allows for Churches and other places of worship, associated single-family, two-family and multiple-family dwellings, colleges, seminaries, related professional offices, public and private schools, nursery schools, an small business, clinics, medical and dental offices, boarding and rooming houses, and clubs. Maximum building height allowed is 45 feet.

Bell South was purchased by AT&T and they are re-evaluating their real estate holdings. This 7.85 acre+ land area is zoned C-1. Maximum building height is 40 feet and three stories, minimum set back is zero. Set back next to residential is only 10 feet side yard and 30 feet rear line. Uses for C-1 Local include retail shops, appliance sales and service, drugstores, and other sales and service establishments. Food, furniture and hardware stores, clinics, medical office buildings, professional office buildings, and financial institutions are also allowed. None of these uses require a public hearing.

The commercial property located at 636 East Lake Drive in the Oakhurst commercial district is 2.11 acres of C-1 property too. Similarly, the small commercial areas located at Mead Road and West College Avenue (.25 acre) and at Feld Avenue and West College Avenue (.25) are zoned C-1 local. It is also rumored that Marta is considering selling their parking lot between West College Avenue and Park Place for development (.75 acre).

Development of all of these properties could have an immediate and direct impact on your property value and enjoyment of your home. Within a local historic district a public hearing would be required even for the approved uses under the zoning laws. That would give you the opportunity to protect your home and your largest investment. Outside of a local historic district you do not have that luxury. The only time a public hearing is necessary is when a variance is requested or to change the zoning. Even so, you have less consideration than you would under a LHD overlay.

The development of a local historic district provides recognition for an area and attracts visitors from the immediate surrounding communities and from across the country. This improved visibility makes commercial development within a local historic district a lower risk investment. Most communities experience a boom in the development of their commercial areas once a local historic district has been established. The improved development continues to improve the visibility and provides support for new business to stay and thrive. Commercial areas that have struggled because the immediate density of population was not sufficient to support more development find the designation expands development. It improves the overall available services, number of jobs, and tax base for a community.

What are the dates of the meetings with the City to discuss the Guidelines?

The last we checked, Friday, August 10th. HPC's input on the guidelines presented to the HPC by the community have not been received. We understand that the original dates for August, starting with August 21 have been cancelled. We will provide the new dates as soon as possible.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Studies show that LHDs sustain diversity and racial mix of a community

Studies show that Local Historic Districts sustain diversity and racial mix of a community compared to more traditional suburban communities that are mostly segregated. With the rapid level of infill construction of home priced $600,000 - $1,000,000, will we be able to retain that diversity?

Retaining diversity, avoiding the displacement of our elderly, poor and even middle class residents, and providing affordable housing within a community are concerns for any community that finds themselves with great demand for available land and therefore rapidly increases in land values.

It is true that there is a published paper "The Economic Power of Restoration" found at www.wisconsinhistory.org/hp/smartgrowth/economic_power_of_restoration.pdf. It states that historic districts reflect the diversity of a community unlike the majority of urban and suburban subdivisions that tend to be racially segregated. Why? Because a local historic district encourages a variety of housing sizes and therefore a variety of housing prices. Given the current land value in Decatur it is unrealistic to think we will easily provide affordable housing, but lhd can help us to maintain our diversity for what we hope is many more years.

Many of our neighbors can not afford homes being priced from $600,000 - $1,000,000 in our neighborhood even if they sell their own homes for $300,000-$400,000 with 100% equity. Will that mean that continued infill development will mean a loss of diversity for Oakhurst? Only time will tell for certain.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What is historic about Oakhurst? What is your basis for nominating the district?

This was a comment left on another post.
What is historic about Oakhurst? What is your basis for nominating the district?

The nominating form contains some of the history surrounding the proposed district. It was developed during the time that Oakhurst was its own town. The proposed boundary has a consistent bungalow style and is relatively intact. The South Decatur historical survey conducted by Darlene Roth in 1987 was very thorough and was included as an index to later surveys for 1989 and 1990. In the survey from 1987 Ms. Roth states that "What Oakhurst represents for the City of Decatur is a pattern of housing -- scale, materials, and styles -- which won out over other available possibilities during the 1910s and especially the 1920s." She goes on to say "The Oakhurst areas were the most populous in Decatur through the 1920s and it was the Oakhurst pattern of down-scaled houses, rather than the Adams-King's Highway pattern of upscaleed houses which has continued to dominate Decatur architecture."

Location of Oakhurst "The skeletal outline of these related developments (Oakhurst, East End, and part of Greater Decatur) is visible on the 1928 USGS topographic map for Decatur: the houses clearly follow the line of the Georgia railroad and the South Decatur trolley line".

Why is the time period important "The late 1910s and the 1920s were the most significant decade for Decatur development"

Why preserve "Oakhurst and related sections (Greater Decatur and East End) represent what Decatur was becoming and was to become when these parts were annexed to the city in 1915 and 1916. After Oakhurst, the moderately scaled, modestly decorated, cosily nestled suburban house was the norm for Decatur"

How to preserve "The local ordinance could be used, with greater or lesser restrictions, to guide new construction in the historic areas, to recommend compatible alterations to contribuing properties, within the historic areas, to deter unnecessary demolitions, and to increase the local respect and pride in Decatur's historic housing stock -- a primary municipal asset."

The full 1987 report is available. Just request it via e-mail at preserveoakhurst@gmail.com.

Would you please provide the addresses for each of the homes demolished in Oakhurst during the last 5 years?

Anonymous said...
Would you please provide the addresses for each of the homes demolished in Oakhurst during the last 5 years? Also, how many of those homes were uninhabitable?

We will provide the addresses in a separate post. The attached map shows major renovations (green) and new construction (orange) in the Oakhurst area from 2000 - 2005. We will update the map with 2006 & 2007 (so far) data soon. Some of the new construction on the map was on vacant lots.

We are not certain we can really answer your second question. The homes have been demolished and therefore the question of whether they could be inhabited is lost. Our own recollection is that in most cases someone was living in the home prior to the demolition. We do know that one demolition that does not show up on this map - 220 Third Avenue - was not inhabitable.

The map shows another very important detail. On a larger view Oakhurst has more demolitions than any other part of the City of Decatur. The proposed boundaries of the nominated local historic district has fewer demolitions and therefore is one of the more intact areas with a consistent bungalow housing style and time of development.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Atlanta City Councilwoman Norwood has stated that there is evidence that multiple out of scale homes devalue surrounding smaller homes

Atlanta City Councilwoman Norwood has stated that there is evidence that multiple out of scale homes devalue surrounding smaller homes, making them essentially only worth the land or less due to demolition costs. What do you recommend to protect our elderly and middleclass from losing value in their most important investment?

The discussion regarding out of scale housing is taking place in metropolitan areas across the country. The City of Atlanta has been struggling with it for years. The most recent article in the Creative Loafing published 08.01.2007 http://atlanta.creativeloafing.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=277576 discusses a new ordinance passed by the City of Atlanta to try and resolve this issue.

The problem is that land value in the metro area has greatly increased. You do not have to look far to see crane tower building multi-family housing. This is indicative of the demand for housing in the metro area. When land values increase developers attempt to put as much square footage on the land in order to get the maximum price for their investment. Unfortunately, as you change the character of a neighborhood you lower the value of the original housing. Sometimes the lower value is temporary, sometimes permanent. A consistent block face or look from the street is attractive and according to real estate text it is more valuable.

Zoning is one tool that can be used to control height and mass. The zoning for R-60 is applied across the City of Decatur and changes to this zoning would be applied in the same manner. The City of Decatur is currently reviewing recommendations made by the infill task force and we anticipate there will be changes to the zoning.

The City of Decatur has a local historic district overlay that can be used in addition to the residential zoning that allows a community to protect its unique historic character. This overlay is applied to a specific area and therefore it can be used to meet the very specific needs of the community. Other communities have other overlays that are less (or more) restrictive than a local historic ordinance that is used for the same purpose. At this time the only tool available for preserving our unique character is the local historic district ordinance.

The Oakhurst community has experienced a lot of demolition in the past few years. Sixty homes were demolished within a 5 year period. That is one home per month. This rate of demolition puts our community at great risk of losing its historic character and could greatly impact your property values.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Here is a questions for you. What about handicap ramps in lhds?

This is a question posed in a comment on a previous post. I start with the original comment. I apologize it is a long one.

Here is a questions for you. What about handicap ramps in lhds?I have been disturbed about the disagreements regarding handicapped ramps and whether or not a COA with full Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) review was a requirement. During one of the first rounds of public "input" sessions hosted by Amanda Thompson, the question was asked and she stated that a full COA and review was necessary. Lately there have been numerous disagreements with this statement. I wanted to be certain that I was speaking about this matter accurately and truthfully. Therefore, I did research on the subject and here is how it was explained to me. Georgia state law re historic preservation districts mandates that homeowners requesting any material change whatsoever to their house situated within a Local Historic District (LHD) must apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) and submit to a full HPC review. Because the addition to front or side entry of a handicap ramp is always a material change, the plans must be presented and approved by the HPC. Approval or denial can then be appealed to the City Commissioners by either the applicant or a neighbor. Appeal or denial at the City Commission level can then be appealed in the courts by either the applicant or a neighbor. The city nor the HPC can get around this particular addition because it is mandated by state law. Hopefully this answers this debated matter sufficiently.

I am not certain what the point or the question really is for this post. I am assuming that three things are being asked to be answered. One, are handicap ramps allowed in local historic districts. Two, must you get a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) for construction of a handicap ramp. Three, what is a material change.

First, yes handicap ramps are allowed in local historic districts. I am not aware of any handicap ramp that has been denied in any local historic district in Decatur. The design guidelines for the proposed district are not available, but I do not anticipate there will be a provision for restricting handicap ramps. The level of change to a home necessary to build a handicap ramp varies from home to home. I have neighbors with a flat stoop and on step to the ground that would need very little if any change to their home to provide a handicap ramp. I have other neighbors that live on a very tall hill with multiple steps on multiple levels that will require extensive changes to put a ramp on the front of their home.

The question of whether or not a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) will be required or not is a difficult question to answer. There are no proposed design guidelines to use to answer this question. However, material changes to the front and side of a home do require COA in local historic districts. Some handicap ramps will be simple, temporary structures others will be more complex and may require greater change. That means the question of whether a COA will be required is more complex than a yes or no answer. The most appropriate answer at this time is "it depends". Once more is known about the design guidelines we may be able to provide a better answer.

What is a material change? A material change is something that changes the architectural element or historic character of a building. Any permanent change to your home would represent a material change. However, items constructed that can be replaced, removed, or repaired without changing the structure would not be material. Changing the placement of a front door is material. Changing your screen door is not material.

I have heard several sides of this argument in the past months and I have begun to believe this argument is not about handicap ramps at all. The disabled and the elderly are very important to our community and represent the most underserved in our community. To use tactics to frighten these residents to support your argument is unseemly regardless of which side of the argument you reside. Pardon me as I step down from my soap box.

How will current proposed changes to in-fill impact smaller homes & environment?

While current zoning laws allow only two story construction, we continue to see homes built to 2 1/2 stories by way of an unfinished attic space with dormers. The new proposed guidelines from the Infill Taskforce Committee recommend increases in height and floor area ratio so that even larger homes can be built, especially on smaller lots, than what is allowed under the current ordinance. How will this impact the smaller homes and the environment?

The in-fill taskforce recommendations can be found on the City of Decatur website. http://www.decaturga.com/cgs_infilltaskforce.aspx It is true that the majority report recommendations greatly expand the size and height of homes allowed in Decatur, especially on smaller lots such as the ones we have in Oakhurst. There are work sessions for the Planning Commission and City Commission on 8/9 and 8/20 to review the recommendations from the taskforce. It is our understanding that these work sessions are not public hearings, although the public is welcome to listen. Once these sessions are complete a recommendation will be made to change or not change the current zoning.

There is nothing in the available zoning laws that can specifically protect the unique historic character of a neighborhood. The zoning law enacted will apply to the entire City of Decatur and is unable to address the concerns of each individual neighborhood.

Given the rise in land values, it is expected that developers will continue to build homes to the maximum height and size allowed under the zoning laws. Therefore, we expect the rapid level of demolition to continue. No one knows for certain how this will impact the property values or the environment. Many communities have seen the loss in value of smaller homes as more and more larger scale homes where built around them. Certainly, if every lot maximized their impervious surface area there would be stress on our infrastructure and therefore the environment.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Letter to residents regarding the local historic district

August 3, 2007

Dear Neighbor,

In our constantly changing world, we need reminders of our past. Preserving the unique historic character of a neighborhood provides us with an anchor to the past and an incentive to the future. As a friend often says, if you do not preserve history, history tends to repeat itself.

The 1987 survey on the historical resources of the City of Decatur conducted by Darlene Roth states that the Oakhurst community was the most populated residential area of Decatur in the early 1900s. The bungalow homes built in Oakhurst defined the future architecture for Decatur and became the defining style for the entire City. Additionally, the area still bears the mark of the development of a community as the popular mode of transportation changed from rail, to trolley line, to automobile.

The Oakhurst community is not just valuable for its mark in history at the time of its development in 1910. Every decade has added its layer of history and remains one to be remembered.

How important is preserving historic resources such as an intact neighborhood? Consider the travesty of Beacon Hill. Beacon Hill was a very strong, intact neighborhood near downtown Decatur. The majority of the residents of this community were African-American. Many people do not remember this neighborhood and the many stories of community leaders and local civil right leaders from this community because the entire community was demolished. There is no anchor to this history.

Today we are faced with a threat of demolition of the history of Oakhurst and a further burying of our historic resources. According to in-fill development data, the majority of demolition and reconstruction in the City of Decatur is occurring in Oakhurst. This demolition and displacement is not as immediate as Beacon Hill, but the result is the same. Not only are we losing our unique, historic character, we are slowly displacing our elderly and middle-class residents.

In a study conducted in Philadelphia, it was found that local historic districts mirror the cultural and racial diversity of a City at large. This is unlike most housing developments outside of historic districts, which tend to be more segregated. This is valuable from a cultural sustainability aspect, but also supports that local historic district do not displace residents because it provides for a variety of housing sizes and prices.

We are not advocating the prevention of new construction or renovation. We are advocating the use of local historic district to authorize design guidelines for new development and renovation that is not destructive to the area’s historic character. We hope you will join us in supporting this local historic district to preserve the area’s unique historic character, its history and its diversity.


Your neighbors that support the proposed local historic district

Sunday, August 5, 2007

What can be done under current zoning laws to ensure quality construction?

Current land costs are so high it's anticipated that developers will lower renovation and new construction standards to retain profits for their new projects in Oakhurst. The lower quality construction may negatively impact the value of our homes. What can be done under current zoning laws to ensure quality construction and therefore protect my investment?

Zoning is the way the governments control the physical development of land and the kinds of uses to which each individual property may be put. Zoning laws typically specify the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities may take place. For example, an R-1 residential zone might allow only single-family detached homes as opposed to duplexes or apartment complexes. On the other hand, a C-1 commercial zone might be zoned to permit only certain commercial or industrial uses in one jurisdiction, but permit a mix of housing and businesses in another jurisdiction. Zoning can regulate height and floor area ratio, but the character of a place or home can not be regulated by zoning. Similarly, quality can not be regulated through zoning laws other than life safety and engineering standards. Local historic district overlay ensures quality construction that is in keeping with the local character of a neighborhood to protect a communities historic value and economic value.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Great Interest in Local Historic Districts Across Georgia

According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resoures Historic Preservation Division there are 116 Georgia communities with historic preservation districts and 71 have local programs. The interest and number of local programs continues to grow. What are the benefits of local historic district that encourage so many communities to seek its protection?

It is difficult to answer the question for why other communities are interested in local historic district without getting the information from them directly. But, I refer you to the article by Donovan Rykema, http://www.nationaltrust.org/advocacy/case/Rypkema_Speech_on_Sustainability_in_Portland.pdfI his argument is based on the sustainability and flexibility of local historic districts. Sustainability in terms of economics, cultural, racial diversity, environmental, and community spirit.

Another article that may offer some reasons for the popularity is www.nh.gov/oep/programs/MRPA/conferences/documents/WhatAreHDsGoodFor-logo.doc
“Daniel Webster once said that a person who doesn’t respect the past isn’t performing his [or her] duty to the future. “

“Historic districts have the paradoxical twin virtues of stability and flexibility. They encourage continuity and the care of existing properties, while respecting changes over time ‑‑ layers of life ‑‑ that add architectural richness and visual variety to townscapes. But they do not prevent new construction, nor should they prohibit contemporary design that is respectful of existing resources.”

“What about the reasons NOT to have a local historic district? Whenever the idea of historic districting comes up locally, “historic district horror stories” are sure to follow. Most of them are either misinterpretations, or misunderstandings, or just plain wrong “

Friday, August 3, 2007

What tools are currently available

What tools are currently available in the City of Decatur that preserve unique historic character and history, while still allowing growth and development of an area, other than Local Historic District designation?

The only method of preserving the unique historic character and history of a neighborhood in the City of Decatur is through Local Historic District. The historic preservation ordinance and historic preservation commission were established by local ordinance to ensure that renovations and new construction in Decatur's Local Historic Districts are consistent with the character of the neighborhood. The development of the design guidelines to be used in a community are created with input from the community so that it protects their unique valued resources while still allowing some flexibility especially in new construction.

Many residents mistakenly believe that zoning can be used to protect historic resources. However, zoning is the way the governments control the physical development of land and the kinds of uses to which each individual property may be put. Zoning laws typically specify the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities may take place. For example, an R-1 residential zone might allow only single-family detached homes as opposed to duplexes or apartment complexes. On the other hand, a C-1 commercial zone might be zoned to permit only certain commercial or industrial uses in one jurisdiction, but permit a mix of housing and businesses in another jurisdiction. Zoning can regulate height and floor area ratio, but the character of a place or home can not be regulated by zoning.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Local Historic Districts Help Preserve Character

Here is an article from the Fall 2005 Decatur Preservation Alliance news letter:

Local Historic Districts
Help Preserve Character
The Decatur Preservation Alliance has formed an Advocacy committee to further our mission of helping preserve Decatur’s historic structures and greenspaces. The Advocacy committee has decided that one of its highest priorities is educating Decatur property owners about what benefits neighborhoods can receive from forming more local historic districts, and encouraging property owners to apply for historic district status for their neighborhoods.

Decatur is almost unique among inside-the-perimeter metro Atlanta small towns in retaining intact its historic neighborhoods. A survey completed for the City of Decatur in 1990 states that “by the year 2000 probably 80 percent of all of Decatur’s housing will be eligible for the National Register based on age alone.” However, very recently, development pressures have resulted in increasing demolitions of historic homes (those more than 50 years old) and commercial buildings throughout Decatur. While the DPA supports appropriate redevelopment in the city’s residential and commercial districts,
we urge residents of historic neighborhoods to take a look at the protections offered by local historic district ordinances. Many people are confused by what exactly it means to live in a locally designated historic district. Here’s a list of things a historic district ordinance can and can’t do:

A Preservation Ordinance does:
Establish an objective and democratic process for designating historic properties.
Protect the integrity of designated districts with a design review requirement for new construction or demolition.
Authorize design guidelines for new development within historic districts to ensure that it is not destructive to the area’s historic character.
Stabilize declining neighborhoods and protect and enhance property values.

A Preservation Ordinance does not:
Require permission to change paint color on your house.
Restrict the sale or use of the property.
Require approval of any interior changes to your house.
Prevent compatible new construction within historic areas.
Require approval for ordinary repair or maintenance.

We are very fortunate to live in a city with an in-place historic preservation ordinance, Historic Preservation Commission and Historic Resources survey, Resource Manual and Design Guidelines (all available at City Hall). Decatur also has two locally designated historic districts: the McDonough-Adams-Kings Highway district and the Clairemont Avenue district (an application is pending for designation of Ponce de Leon Court). But other historic neighborhoods without the protection of historic district ordinances as described in the city’s Resource Manual include: Lenox Place; College View (Adair,
Hibernia, Greenwood Circle, parts of West Howard); Ponce de Leon Terrace; Ponce de Leon Heights (Coventry, Woodlawn, Fairfield, Nelson Ferry); the Great Lakes; Clairemont Estates (Vidal, Lamont, Garden Lane); “Old Decatur” (Sycamore, Hillyer, Sycamore Place, Barry, Pate and North Candler); Glenwood Estates; Oakhurst; and Winnona Park. The City of Decatur has allowed property owners applying for local historic district status to participate in writing the ordinances that cover their neighborhoods; therefore, an ordinance covering the Clairemont Avenue historic district differs in some ways from the ordinance covering the MAK district. The DPA feels that both historic district ordinances have been popular among residents and extremely successful in preventing demolition of historic properties and promoting appropriate
design of new construction in these neighborhoods. Decatur’s historic neighborhoods
define the character of our city. The DPA in its mission to preserve these historic places urges Decaturites to learn more about the history and architecture of their neighborhoods and the tools available to them to protect them. To access the city-commissioned survey of historic neighborhoods visit www.decaturpreservationalliance. com, and click “Resources.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Flyer given to residents within the proposed local historic district

THE HISTORIC DISTRICT is a proposal to protect our classic homes from being needlessly torn down and replaced.

We all appreciate the character of our homes and our neighborhood. A historic district protects that character and makes sure that developers won’t be able to bulldoze historic homes.

The historic district is designed to protect the exterior appearance of our homes so that when they are renovated they still retain their original charm and character. This ensures that former residents will be able to return and still recognize where they grew up. This also makes sure that new residents only build homes that fit in with the existing homes (limiting new home size and new home appearance).

Designating our Oakhurst neighborhood a historic district recognizes the cohesive nature of our community and protects all residents from the intrusion of new construction that would interfere with its character.
The historic district does not prevent any renovations of the interior of your home and regulates only material changes to the portion of your and your neighbor’s homes that are visible from the street. And for that regulation you gain protection of your whole neighborhood. You gain the promise that your history in your home will be preserved so that in the future your children or grandchildren will be able to see the home where you lived and not a new home that replaced it.

The historic district recognizes the care that Oakhurst’s long time residents have taken with their homes and formalizes preservation so that current and future residents will take similar steps to preserve Oakhurst’s charm and character and unique housing styles.
The Historic District WILL:
Protect historic homes (built 1939 or earlier) from demolition.

Preserve homes so that our children and grandchildren will be able to see the homes and the Oakhurst we all love.

Require new construction to be in keeping with the look of the existing homes in Oakhurst.
The Historic District WILL NOT:

Prevent demolition of more modern, non-historic, homes.

Regulate anything more than the part of your home that is visible from the street.

Regulate the interior of your home.

Prevent ordinary maintenance and repair of your home.

Regulate non-material changes to your home (for instance adding, removing, or replacing a screen door.)

Prevent re-modeling a home or adding on to a home. The historic district requires material changes to meet design guidelines, but it does not “freeze” homes in time such that they cannot be remodeled or expanded.

Prevent wheelchair ramps or other changes to make a home handicap accessible.

Put you in jail for any historic district repair or renovation issue. (No one in Decatur has ever been jailed for any historic district issue.)
With a Historic District YOU GAIN:

Security in knowing that your neighborhood will continue to look and grow in keeping with its character

Protection from a future buyer destroying your neighbor’s house.

Public recognition of our neighborhood for its architectural