Moratorium buys time to make preservation decision

Milledge Avenue is a street stuck in time.

 

In many areas of the dynamic, ever-growing city of Athens, the knocking of hammers and humming of drills are so constant that they seem as natural as the chirping of birds.

 

Not on Milledge Avenue. Residents on this street will not hear knocking or humming at least until this time next year.

 

The Athens-Clarke mayor and commission adopted a temporary moratorium at their April 7 meeting to disallow any construction on Milledge Avenue until April 2010, or until the resolution is repealed.

 

The resolution bars the acceptance of all applications for demolition, relocation and construction of all buildings with frontage on Milledge Avenue.

 

The Resolution refers to the selected section of Milledge Avenue as the “Subject Area.” It comprises the area of Milledge Avenue between its intersections with Broad Street and Lumpkin Street.

 

The moratorium is in its fourth phase of extensions. It was first adopted on Oct. 2, 2007, and then extended in April and October of 2008.

 

The moratorium is buying time for the county commission to make a decision on whether Milledge Avenue should be designated a local historic district. The designation is something that the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation and Preservation Commission have been pushing for.

 

The Milledge Avenue Committee was formed in May 2007 by Mayor Heidi Davison and chaired by Commissioner Kathy Hoard. It comprised property owners, neighborhood representatives, Greek organizations and University of Georgia representatives. The Committee worked with the Planning Department to identify objectives for the period of the moratorium.

 

Sidebar:

The Milledge Avenue Committee found three issues to be addressed regarding the Subject Area:

  1. The protection of cultural heritage
  2. The need for unique development regulations that recognize heritage while encouraging appropriate redevelopment opportunities for non-historic properties
  3. The protection of the neighborhood character of all immediately adjacent single family areas

 

The first objective, to protect Milledge Avenue’s cultural heritage, is an ongoing effort by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation and Preservation Commission.

 

Milledge Avenue is not one of Athens’ nine local historic districts. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but this honorary designation does not protect the historic properties from demolition or construction that would damage their historic integrity.

 

Locally designated historic districts are subject to ordinances that govern what can and cannot be done structurally to a building within the area. The Preservation Commission must issue a Certificate of Appropriateness before changes can be made.

 

The moratorium on demolition and construction is one step toward designating Milledge Avenue a local historic district. The movement is going smoothly, ACHF Executive Director Amy Kissane said.

 

The second objective is to regulate development in a way that recognizes historic heritage while accommodating non-historic properties.

 

This effort is a continuation of a movement that began in the late 1950s.

 

The Society for the Preservation of Old Athens, founded in 1959, fought ardently against commercial interests who wanted to purchase and demolish historic homes along the avenue.

 

Protective zoning provisions for the area between Broad Street and Lumpkin Street made the area office-institutional, rather than business.

 

“As a direct result,” reads the Carl Vinson Institute of Government website, “Milledge Avenue did not succumb to the rampant commercialization [that] consumed Prince Avenue.”

 

Properties that are not considered historic are those younger than 50 years. These buildings would be free to make changes without Preservation Commission approval, but would still be subject to zoning regulations.

 

The third objective is to maintain the integrity of residences. Though the resolution specifically points out single-family homes, Milledge Avenue is distinctive because of its abundance of fraternity and sorority houses.

 

These non-traditional dormitory-style residences, some historic and some modern, cover a substantial portion of the avenue.

 

The 1908 Gamma Phi Beta sorority house, located at 397 S. Milledge Ave., is involved in a discussion that some feel very passionate about.

 

“The Gamma Phi Betas were proposing an addition to the front which would just obliterate what’s there,” Kissane said.

 

The moratorium prevents them from doing that in the short-term, and the possible outcome of the whole effort could make such changes impossible in the future as well.

 

Gamma Phi Beta was not subject to preservation guidelines, but the pressure put on them from the commission and ACHF led them to a hollow solution.

 

Rather than extend the front of the house toward the street to build much-needed additional living space, they decided to add meeting space to the back of the house, which could compromise parking.

 

Though most people think Athens to be a preservation-minded community, the politics of preservation leave many community members unsatisfied.

 

Almost every proposal that comes before the Preservation Commission is a win-lose situation. One party, usually the preservationists, come away happy while the business or homeowners either follow the commission’s recommendations or forego construction altogether.

 

For this reason, some residents and business-owners are unhappy about the possible outcome of the decisions being made during the term of the moratorium.

 

“If I can prevent my apartments from getting in there, I will,” Matthew Hicks said in regards to the proposed local historic district. Hicks is the owner of The Columns apartments on Milledge Avenue.

 

“My fear would be that I would have to pay a $50 or $100 permit fee when I want to change out a window, and I don’t want to have to get into that,” he said.

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