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 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.


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?

Facilitator said...

This was answered as a separate post

Bob said...

Isn't it true that Decatur's zoning ordinances do not allow homes as large as were allowed prior to new zoning in Atlanta? Is not new zoning ordinances adopted in Atlanta now similar to Decatur's zoning ordinances? Atlanta City Councilwoman Norwood endorses zoning to deal with infill, but I see no mention of her endorsement of use of historic districts in addition to changing zoning as a way to solve infill problems. Can you quote from her published comments where she endorses historic districts instead of simply using zoning? I see no basis in Oakhurst for the over restrictive uses that will be implemented by historic district designation. Why is a little freedom of one's expression such a crime to you? Why the need to control your neighbor's aesthetic tastes at the extreme detriment to their time and costs? Please provide a better solution that is not so intrusive and allows more choice for our neighborhood.

kindred said...


The point of the quote is that out of scale homes have an impact on the value of smaller homes in the immediate vicinity. There are homes that are out of scale in relation to the surrounding homes in our community regardless of the zoning in Atlanta. The current zoning laws in the Ciy of Decatur allow a home of 35'. The proposed majority report for infill provides for homes over 40'. We do not know what if any changes to zoning will be made to zoning for the City of Decatur.

As far as I know there are no other zoning overlays for the City of Decatur. To use zoning instead of an overlay means we must use zoning that applies to the entire City of Decatur.

There are many communities/cities across the country who have attempted to use zoning to protect the unique character of their neighborhood. Many found that controlling via zoning was too restrictive because each community has different needs and architecture. Plus, zoning CAN NOT protect historic character.

I understand that you believe historic districts to be overly restrictive, but I disagree. In my research and reading I have found that historic districts allow for greater flexibility in size and height because it does control aesthetics. I choose to encourage my neighbors to build within looser boundaries of zoning as long as my property values are protected because the look of my neighborhood from the street retains its original historic character. With zoning we would need very tight restrictions to obtain that same goal. It is worth the time and costs to protect my neighborhood's character not just for me but for my neighbors. The only faction that could really lose money are developers.

That is the better solution for me. What is your solution for protecting this?

Scott Doyon said...

"Plus, zoning CAN NOT protect historic character."

Let's make sure we're not confusing character with architectural style. When discussing place, unique "character" is not the result of any single thing but, rather, is derived from a specific combination of many physical details.

Lot coverages, setback/build-to lines, building disposition, building heights, materials, proportions of openings and windows, roof slopes, public and private frontages, sidewalk presence and widths, approach to parking, street trees, street widths, street connectivity and block sizes are all components of neighborhood character that CAN be prescribed and protected through zoning.

This makes no implication that such regulation is desired by, or desirable to, a particular community. Only that it's legally and administratively possible.

Architectural style, on the other hand, is also a component of character but is NOT, to your point, regulated through zoning. For communities that value a particular historic style or collection of styles, preservation ordinances such as an LHD can be a key and effective tool.

Character in place is no different than character in people: It's complex and nuanced. But it can still be studied, replicated and protected, and there are various tools available to achieve that objective.

Facilitator said...

As stated on a previous post zoning has been used in other communities to add greater restrictions in size, mass, orientation to the street, etc. to try an maintain character. However, the City of Decatur's current zoning and proposed in-fill design zoning do little to address the unique character discussed here. As a matter of fact the zoning in combination with land values actually encourages homes that are very much out of scale with the existing homes in the proposed historic district. At this time the local historic district is the only way to provide this type of protection.

Most people I speak to are interesting in protecting the character of the neighborhood regardless of their opinion on local historic district. However, we still had the recommendation from the majority report for infill that recommend zoning changes that allow homes to be increasingly out of scale with the neighborhood. No one has made any move to change zoning to protect the character they simply have talked about what could be done or what other communities are doing.

We are losing the "character" of our neighborhood at a rate of one home per month. If there is truly a solution to this issue in zoning it will apparently take at least 24 months to work its way through the City. That is why it has been recommended to approve the lhd with an option to dissolve it at the end of 24 months. If a better solution can be put forth the residents can decide to dissolve the lhd. Why risk losing our sense of place or our sense of history?

Scott Doyon said...

I don't dispute that what is possible and what is actually happening on the ground are two very different things. I mentioned in previous postings, but will reiterate here, that I'm not advocating any particular approach. I'm simply clarifying the different tools available and what outcomes -- good and bad -- are *possible* when using them.

The problems expressed in your post are very real but have little to do with the merits or weaknesses of any particular tool. Instead, they illustrate the big challenge with this issue: a relative absence of both community consensus and political will.

In case I haven't mentioned before, I live outside the affected LHD area but am sympathetic to many of your desired outcomes. I too want to protect this neighborhood's character. I just believe getting there will require more than a little top-down influence and I'm skeptical that anyone at City Hall is willing to swing that big a hammer.

Andrew S. said...

What is the process to dissolve lhd after implemented? Where is the process to dissolve listed in the Decatur rules?

If 50+% of those in proposed lhd say they do not want lhd now (which is looking close with all the signs), why keep going forward and wasting taxpayer dollars with the process if not wanted by majority?

kindred said...

Andrew S.,

I have spoken to quite a few of my neighbors with signs in their yards. Most have expressed deep concern about the impact of out of scale homes on the historic character of the neighborhood and potential negative impact on their property value. Yet, they have been told some "horror stories" about LHD. When asked how they would protect the character many could not answer and a few stated they were told that the new zoning guidelines would accomplish the protection of the neighborhood. I do not think that is against LHD, that is being misinformed.

I am not intimidated by signs that really say nothing. I do not believe they represent 50% of the community. In my opinion the signs were an attempt to divide the community. Most of us have risen above that and continue to have a conversation. That is where you find out how people really feel on the subject.