Meeting to discuss preservation of Milledge Ave.

Derrick Thomas

Whether it comes from the families that built the homes that line it over a century ago, or the young college students who inhabit those homes today, Milledge Avenue has always been a rich source of history and community in Athens.

And now, it seems, the Mayor and Commission want to keep it that way.

Among other topics, the preservation of Milldge Avenue will be discussed at the Mayor and Commission’s agenda setting session, set for tonight, Thursday March 18th at 7:00 at City Hall.

While it may be hard to notice from a leisurely stroll down the road, the preservation of Milledge Avenue, lying just west of Downtown Athens, is something Athens Mayor Heidi Davison takes very seriously.

“Protecting Milledge Avenue will ensure that its beauty and grandeur will no longer be eroded by improper development,” said Davison.

According to the Historic Preservation Committee, the Milledge Avenue Local Historic District contains both sides of Milledge Avenue, from where it intersects with Broad Street to its intersection with Lumpkin Street.  The street itself runs beyond these points, but since the early 1830’s, this portion of Milledge has been “a principal street in Athens,” according to the committee’s local historic property designation report.

The ensuing decades of development are marked in the varying architectural styles on display on Milledge Avenue.  Much of this had to do with the introduction of the street cars in 1888.  The streetcar line was extended south on Milledge from Baxter St. to Lumpkin St. in 1910, according to the ACC Planning Dept.

Most houses were made of brick or wood, with a few stucco exceptions, but one of the more noticeable features of these predominantly two story homes are the large amounts of space between the homes and the street.  According the designation report, these setbacks are “far greater than [those] seen on the residential side streets developed off of Milledge Avenue.”

“The historic designation and overlay is also meant to encourage new development that is more in keeping with the architectural and other design features of the corridor,” said Davison.  “[This] should translate into an even more beautiful and breathtaking boulevard than what we have now.”

Many of the structures on Milledge remain in their original form, or with some historic alterations.  Newer structures replaced some of the originals as the area changed throughout the years.  During the depression in the 1930’s, many of the occupants of the single-family homes were unable to maintain these properties.  This gave way to more apartments and commercial structures.

Perhaps the most noticeable and noteworthy change, however has involved the Greek organizations affiliated with the University of Georgia, such as Alpha Gamma Delta, Kappa Alpha Theta and Alpha Delta Pi.  A number of these organizations have been a part of this area for over 50 years.  The ACC Commission agenda states that such organizations “have become custodians of not just the large historic homes they maintain, but the historic streetscapes and sense of place that results.”

In August of 2008, a committee consisting of property owners, neighborhood representatives and representatives from UGA and the UGA Greek community was appointed by the mayor.  According to the County Commission Agenda, the committee met for several months to discuss the possible preservation of the area.

The committee expressed a need for both an SDO (special district overlay), as well as desire to designate the area as a local historic district.  In March of 2009, the Mayor and Commission approved these findings.  The Planning Commission was set in charge of developing the special district zoning overlay, while the Historic Preservation Commission was to develop a local historic district.

The Athens-Clarke County Historic Preservation Commission held a public hearing on the matter on February 16th of this year.  Individuals from both sides of the issue were given a chance to voice their opinions.  Some were in favor of historic designation for the area, while others were against.  At this meeting, the ACC Historic Preservation Commission unanimously recommended the approval of designating the area in question as the Milledge Avenue Local Historic District.  Design Guidelines and text amendments were included.

A survey questionnaire was sent to property owners and property occupants to gauge the level of support by those affected by the proposal. This was sent along with a notification of the proposed legislation and to alert of upcoming public forums.  While these findings are not binding on the Mayor and Commission, it is noteworthy that only 39 of the 380 questionnaires sent were returned.  Furthermore, of those returned, only 14 were in support of designation.

This comes as little surprise to the mayor.

“There will always be individuals to complain about government restrictions
on their ability to make alterations to their property,” said Davison. “But those who appreciate Athens, and the importance of these buildings and corridors and what makes it special, usually agree with the effort to put protections in place, knowing that their ownership is not forever.”

Concerned citizens are encouraged to voice their opinions at tonight’s meeting at City Hall at 7:00.

Issues concerning the Public Utilities Dept. Services Delivery Plan will also be discussed at the meeting.  Specifically, the addition of sewer lines in the Sandy Creek area will be discussed.  This is important because Athens-Clarke County gets drinking water from this watershed.

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