Construction in Historic Zones Requires ApprovalPosted: March 18, 2010
Any change in design or materials to the exterior of buildings in all ten of Athens’ historic districts must be approved by the Athens Historic Preservation Committee before construction can begin.
On Wednesday, March 15, the committee will hold its monthly meeting to decide three cases of residential home improvement in designated historic zones.
Held in the Athens Clarke-County Planning Department building on West Dougherty Street, the meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30. The meeting is open to the public and opportunity will be given for expression of public opinion on the items being discussed.
Prior to the start of the meeting, the committee will set an agenda for their next meeting on April 21. The agenda setting is also open to the public, but will not include an opportunity for public comment.
The three cases currently pending approval include requests for the construction of a new house, the building of a rear addition, and the building of a detached carport. Although these properties are in different locations around Athens, they all fall into one of the ten historic districts in Athens.
Jim Robinson, an architect for Design South Builders, designed the plans for two of the three properties up for approval.
“This is my first experience with the committee, but so far they have been reasonable as to what they require and leave a wide variety of options that can be used,” said Robinson.
Although historic areas do not inherently carry any zoning restrictions on property use, the committee was established with the effort of protecting the character of areas determined to be of historical significance.
“There is a comfort in knowing that your neighbor cannot build something out of character that would detract from your property,” said Amber Eskew, the Historic Preservation Planner at the Planning Department.
“The work they do is important because it preserves the valued character of these historic neighborhoods,” he said. “I’ve seen beautiful communities ruined by the construction of a monstrosity that is not consistent with the other houses.”
All properties wishing to make renovation must submit a formal request to the Planning Department with the planned changes. These applications are reviewed by Eskew who makes recommendations to the committee based on researched findings.
“Some people see the timeframe and planning involved in applying to be a negative,” said Eskew. “Others find that it forces them to think through their plans thoroughly, resulting in fewer changes during construction.”
Certain minor changes can be approved by Eskew without the involvement of the committee. Examples of minor changes include window alterations or addition of signage.
“From a design standpoint, I did not do anything differently than I would have normally done,” said Robinson. “I tried to say sensitive to the overall character of the house and in turn with the houses around it.”
Because the majority of buildings in Athens’ historic districts are residential, most requests come from residents. There are a number of commercial and business requests, most of which come from downtown, which is entirely zoned as historic.
“Most people living in these areas don’t mind the approval process because of the results,” said Eskew. “The historic character initially draws many to live in those areas.”
Applications that are not met with approval can be passed with conditions for how to make the plans acceptable. This is in the attempt to make the process less repetitive for applicants.
The committee seeks to work with residents trying to improve the property as appropriate changes can serve to increase property value in the area.
All seven committee members are volunteers appointed by the Athens Clarke County Mayor and Commission and serve three year terms.
Although members tend to be professionals in the fields of construction or property development, the only requirement to be on the committee is a sufficient interest in historic preservation.
All decisions by the committee can be appealed to the mayor and commission. If still not satisfied, applicants can have request to have their property permanently removed from a historic district.