Thanks to those who came to the Historic Designation Committee's first large community meeting! Meeting Synopsis is available below.
The next Community Meeting will be Sunday, August 7, 3-5pm, the same content will be covered but we will also be joined by representatives from nearby historic districts Inman Park and Poncey Highland who will be able to help us understand what it is actually like to live in a historic district.
HD COMMUNITY MEETING 2
HD COMMUNITY MEETING 1 - FULL AUDIO (1:48:09)
Larry Compton of the Historic Designation committee brought the meeting to order. After introductory remarks he displayed a baseline draft map of a potential Candler Park historic district and subareas.
Introduced Aaron Fortner, consultant on this project.
Aaron: based on survey responses, past experience and discussions, we have focussed on the Poncey Highland Historic District (PHHD) which was adopted in the last 2-3 years. The historic district style they adopted was a sort of “historic light” which was designed to be less stringent that other historic districts in the city.
As of this moment there has been no writing of a Candler Park Historic District, we are still in the process of talking about, discussing and receiving input (such as at this meeting). We have created an outline doc summarizing what the PHHD does so we can discuss more specific goals and understand how to accomplish those goals when we do begin drafting regulations. The feedback we’ve gotten has led us to believe that something similar to PHHD is what CP residents may be interested in.
A few key takeaways from reading the PHHD regulations:
Aaron noted that based on the survey (177 responded), which included very open-ended questions, approx 75% of the responses were very positive or lightly interested and about 25% were somewhat negative or a hard no on the possibility of a historic district.
PB: Why is this conversation being had? Will there be a discussion to educate us on the pros and cons?
Larry - a lot of the initial conversations were driven by the large duplex development and teardowns on lots, then the conversation about rezoning the MARTA walkshed to MRMU led to the formation of a group to look into ways we could preserve the historic nature of CP without being too restrictive or restricting density. Secondarily were concerns around tree protection (loss of trees where larger developments occurred).
DH: Concern that, with only 50 people on the call here, this is not adequate representation/participation. Concern that a lot of the historic building codes are against energy efficiency and safety, and may be creating other problems in houses.
Larry - we got about 177 responses to the survey, this is less than we hoped for but that was after an extensive leaflet campaign, publicizing in CPNO Agenda emails, meetings, and the Messenger. We absolutely want people to be engaged and to hear about this, this is our first big community meeting, we are definitely trying to do our best to engage the entire neighborhood so that no one is surprised.
Aaron - explains that we are in the education and fact-finding phase so that we can figure out HOW and IF to move forward.
Q&A with Matt Adams
Aaron introduces Matt Adams, the Interim Assistant Director of the Historic Preservation Department at the City which oversees all the City’s historic districts. Aaron led a Q&A with Matt based on questions we have heard expressed:
Aaron: Besides the specific regulations can you talk about the process of getting a permit in a HD and how it’s different than a neighborhood that isn’t an HD.
Matt: in the majority of the City’s historic districts to get a permit for exterior work (no interior work reviewed) you’d have to come through the HP office and get a Certificate of Appropriateness which is a “pre-permitting review,” depending on the scope of work and the regulations of the neighborhood the COA could be signed off on after specialized review by a staff person or it could rise to the level of a public hearing. At the end of that process the design is fully planned out and the staff/AUDC signs off on it and you get your permit.
Do you see a reduction in needs for variances and such?
For certain things yes, no matter how great you make zoning regulations, there will be unanticipated things that need a variance. It is not uncommon for the staff/UDC to review both the project plan and substantial variances at the same time. The UDC meets every 2 weeks. Review by the UDC is different from the current 3-month variance process through multiple boards and meetings. No matter what, review of plans in a historic district is typically a much quicker turnaround than the current variance process.
What kind of things do you not require permitting for?
Painting (even painting unpainted brick is allowed in some districts), general repairs and maintenance, nothing that doesn’t require a building permit.
Is there an economic impact of historic districts—some feel like they make things more expensive, others seem them as the exact opposite.
I am not an expert on this at all but I can tell you that the City of Macon found that it stabilized home prices, however, Atlanta is obviously a much different environment, I would be skeptical of anything that said home values were significantly raised due to designation, stabilization seems to be typical.
How many historic districts in City?
24-ish? Some have been moved around, been lost and combined, and around 70 landmarked buildings and sites.
What is the diversity of Historic Districts economically?
The majority of the projects (in existing historic districts) we’re seeing these days tend to be in SW Atlanta, due to number of vacant properties that are being renovated. Also these are some of our more active historic district groups as they are very involved in the neighborhood evolution. Most neighborhoods become a historic district to take some control over that neighborhood growth and in order to regulate that growth so that it’s sensitive to both the current residents and the current built form.
What is the process for demolishing a contributing structure? Is it easy, frequent, does it get abused?
That is a Type 4 Certificate of Appropriateness (CoA), demo is the one this that is the same through all historic district in Atlanta for 2 reasons:
Can you add anything to the overview of the PHHD district?
This is as close as the City of Atlanta has gotten to a form-based zoning code—a view of things to come in the way new development is managed and reviewed. Some additional things PHHD does are
How is the PHHD working?
We haven’t had a lot of permits coming through yet, maybe 5 projects have required a public hearing in the last 2 years, 10 or 12 required a staff review (which happens in 2-14 business days), majority of which have been on commercial projects.
In most historic districts there is a neighborhood level Historic District Committee (like our Zoning Comm) which are the first step in people seeking to do major work on their house, neighborhood can provide recommendations, advice, etc and refer the home owners to the city and/or guide them through the process.
Larry: clarifies that these neighborhood-level committees are advisory, they do not approve or deny.
Matt: correct. You are strongly encouraged to meet with the neighborhood but it cannot be legally required. If a project goes to a public hearing with the UDC (again, based on extent of project and regulations) the project will be open to public comment.
Are there other innovations or new ways of doing things that the City staff are thinking about and we might consider?
Just before the pandemic we finished the Future Places Project, it analyzed best best practices around the country for planning and historic preservation. For example, some cities have a pause on demolition for any structure in the city that is over 50 years old. The study also pointed out that Atlanta’s HP program has done a crap job of highlighting, protecting, and preserving African American and Civil Rights history, so City is actively working on improving that.
In terms of review processes, the study recommended standardization of review process and more understandable language throughout. City is trying to use less legalese in code so that the layperson can more easily understand what it being required/asked of them. For example, charts are better than text explanations where possible! If CP chooses to write regulations, City will help make them clear.
At this point the floor was open to questions from participants which are summarized below:
WS: What are the consequences if (in a HD) you make a change that is not in line with the regs?
Matt: that would constitute a zoning violation and follow that process: Stop Work Order issued, citation with a description of the problem, solution and time period to rectify the issue. Majority of these are folks who’ve tried to do a full exterior-interior gut reno without pulling all the permits. If you don’t resolve the issues the judge will levy a fine. No different from any other zoning violation (adding on without a permit, increasing lot coverage, etc)
WS: What is the threshold for neighborhood support for a Historic District to be put in place?
Matt: the vote at the neighborhood-level would follow the rules of the neighborhood organization. After that it moves through the same process as any other rezoning at the city level: NPU, ZRB, City Council. The process to initiate a historic district (which has not yet started in CP) is to have 10 residents of proposed district sign a petition requesting designation, but the City will not engage in a designation that a neighborhood does not want. The HP staff are essentially “marrying” a district and they don’t want to marry someone that does not want them. The HP staff are biased, we think this is the best zoning tool the City has to offer but if it is clear the majority of the neighborhood does not want it, we will not proceed.
Larry: adds there are other tasks in the process if we decide to move forward: writing a “book report” of CP history, documenting the neighborhood, and developing a draft of regulations along with gaining support of the neighborhood. (At this point there was mentioned something about a ballot going out to all residents of the neighborhood but this was later realized to be incorrect, it is a “Notice of Intent to Designate” which the City is legally required to mail to all property owners)
Larry: (from chat) Will renters be included?
Matt: City sends out a “Notice of Intent to Nominate” goes out to all property owner of record after the neighborhood requests designation. Then City and Neighborhood have 180 days to complete process which ends in a big vote by the neighborhood, NPU, City Zoning board, City Council, and finally signed by the mayor. Neighborhood org takes over the voting within the neighborhood. But all other meetings are public hearings where the public may speak or lobby their councilmember, etc.
Note: CPNO process for voting currently is for CPNO members get a vote, any resident (including renters) or property owner can be a member of CPNO.
WS: What is the threshold for the neighborhood vote?
This is currently defined by the CPNO bylaws, we will have to look up exact % and numbers.
Aaron: we have to hear from as many people as possible, which is what we have been and will continue to do. At some point in the next few months we will go to CPNO and try to get approval for actually moving forward, following that there would be more meetings both at CPNO neighborhood meetings, etc. We want everyone in the neighborhood to hear about this, participate and, ultimately, vote.
WS: Expressed concern about how there is a small number of people passionate about a topic, and a large number of people who have preference but can’t necessarily attend every meeting. Wants group to commit to sharing something in the mailbox of everyone in the neighborhood. Suggests mail-in ballots for everyone in neighborhood.
PB: How does a neighborhood determine what is the best zoning tool to use? For example, if the top concern of the neighborhood is density, or trees, is a historic district or some variation best or will something else work to address those concerns?
Larry: when this group formed this we initially explored the tools we have to preserve the historic homes in the neighborhood, the trees, etc. We engaged with folks in and outside of the neighborhood who are experts in architecture, zoning, etc, looked at the R5C regulations, and other possibilities that had been tried. The group came to the conclusion that a HD was what that group was looking for to address their concerns.
PB: Suggests a cheat sheet/a synopsis of the baseline background of how we came to this decision.
Aaron: I have done a lot of Zoning writing for the city and seen a lot of zoning tools in use around the city. Most of what we’ve heard is a concern about loosing this bungalow/historic home character of CP. Another concern we’ve heard is building too much on a lot. My opinion on what the zoning options are is that the historic district tool really is the best zoning tool there is to address these concerns.
PB: clarification on the process—is this correct: you say “I want a historic district” and then figure out the details, you first figure out the details and THEN you figure out whether THAT is what you want? The flavor comes first and then you decide whether you want it?
Aaron: basically that is correct, it’s an iterative process, you figure out something (details) close to what you can agree on, and then you move forward to the next step, figure out more details and decide again if you want to keep moving forward step by step. But yes, we decide what is our version of a historic district and then everyone decides if they want to say “yes” to THAT version.
SF: please tell your neighbors, and spread the word about this initiative so we can hear from as many people as possible. The way for everyone’s voice to get heard is to spread the word now. We cannot change the legal proceedings of the city, for example, on a current rezoning in the neighborhood, every household would not get a vote (unless they all do indeed turn out at the neighborhood level to vote!)—sometimes, as with the proposed MRMU rezoning, the neighborhood vote is only a drop in the bucket of the whole city making a unilateral decision. The city makes these decisions all the time FOR us, I think the Historic District designation is giving us more control moving forward.
Aaron: a very small group of people will be in favor of historic district zoning no matter what, another small group will say ‘no’ no matter what, the majority fall in the middle perhaps inclining one way or another, and it depends on what the plan (details) ultimately look like. Aaron encourages everyone to look at the PHHD district (link) and reiterates that the neighborhood will write our own regulations, these are not imposed on the neighborhood by someone else and the neighborhood really has control over what the regulations will do and be.
WS2: What is the value/benefit of a historic district?
also, we should consider mail in ballots so we have the greatest participation vs. only CPNO members. Would we commit to mail in ballots?
Aaron: it would let the neighborhood preserve the overall neighborhood character of historic homes, at least by preventing the demolition of existing historic homes and possibly in the design of new homes/additions, another concern was about overbuilding lots, these concerns have informed why we are doing this and what we are trying to address.
WS2: So would this prevent the density?
Aaron: It could regulate lot coverage (building density) which current zoning does already. A historic district could keep it the same, make it more restrictive, or maybe set a guideline based on what is representative on your block/street.
As for the vote - I think what is possible is to get information on votes and meetings out to everybody. I have seen surveys used for votes like this. As has been said, there is an established process by law as to how votes get done, but more of what CAN happen is to get the word out more about all the meetings and events happening to make sure everyone we can get to hear about it.
As was said earlier, people can vote at the neighborhood level, and get out and speak at the NPU meeting, but if people overwhelm the City Council member and they feel like it’s something the neighborhood actually does NOT support, they will not support it.
J: Expressed concern that this seems like just too few people have heard about and is concerned that not everyone will get a vote, you’re telling me that you’re happy with the participation now and ready to vote?
Larry: no, we want more participation, this is one of the first community meetings, and this is part of driving up the engagement.
SF: we can’t change processes of voting
Emily T: speaking for CPNO voting procedures: voting at CPNO is normally limited to CPNO members but this is big and there is more to consider here and there may be a way to vote differently. Of course, all votes have to be verified as a resident/owner, there has to be 1 vote per person, etc. After that, the neighborhood vote of support or note goes to the NPU, NPU vote goes to the city as a recommendation, Zoning Review Board (ZRB) votes and makes a recommendation, City Council Zoning Committee and then the City Council votes, then it goes to the mayor for a signature. But as has been said, if the City Council person still feels like the majority of the neighborhood doesn’t support it even if votes say differently, they will not support it in the end.
Aaron again encourages everyone to please help get the word out, asking people to participate in the upcoming meetings, because participation is the most important part of this process.
There were no further questions and the meeting end at 8:50pm.
Chat window questions included similar concerns addressed above as well as comments:
MC: Has anyone done cost comparisons of the cost of repairs, renovations, etc. for a scenario with current ‘non-historic’ district status vs. ‘historic district’ requirements? There is a concern that a regulation will decrease the options for repairs/renovations and therefore increase the cost and lead times for materials. Regulations that restrict energy efficient upgrades would be a huge problem and a non-starter for this proposal.
Larry: We are proposing wide flexibility in material choice so I don't think that is a big of an issue as you might suppose. We agree older houses are often inefficient but there are many options to upgrade while maintaining architectural style.
MC: we don’t know how the cost of materials will fluctuate given the state of the pandemic and availability of materials. Codes simply for aesthetic purposes might be fine if cost comparisons are guaranteed to be comparable across all types of styles. I am not worried about home prices as much as the ability to maintain and afford repairs as a current homeowner.
DH: Some old houses here cost more to repair the than to build new.
Re: above concern—this would be a lot of new materials.
JN: How does this differ from Ansley Park's historic district proposal?
We have not examined Ansley Park’s proposal but we should!
JN: it seems like there is an opportunity to discuss a group like this in Candler Park: https://advocatesforansleypark.com. I'm very concerned a small group of neighbors is looking to dictate my property rights.
AC: Has the committee received input from our local elected officials? City council, state reps, etc? Are they supportive?
We have not yet started that formal engagement as a subcommittee. This process will require council sponsorship, and since our council district is changing we were holding off on that.
Sunshines: Did the new zoning rules passed in the last couple of years prevent future build of duplexes? Curious whether the historic district is addressing something other than the build of duplexes which might have already been addressed.
The new zoning rules - R5C? - that did not prevent duplexes, it did slightly reduce the size of what is constructed but it was limited in what it could do with the zoning regulations
Sunshines: Also wondering whether this is something the entire neighborhood will have the opportunity to vote on before anything is put into place.
HW: Other people are going to increasingly tell us what we can do with our property. This gives us more control of what that looks like. Thanks for the hard work of this committee for our community.
SB: I've lived in Candler Park for roughly 15 years and have a decent sense of the neighborhood and have talked to a lot of neighbors and think there’s solid support for this effort. But pass or fail, it will go through the required process and people will have their voice and like anything in a city or neighborhood it will stand or fall on that process and the substantive merits. Glad to support this reasonable effort at continuing to make Candler Park a great place for all to live.
- Concern over the current level of participation (50 people were on this call at one point, down to 39 at 8:30pm)
- Concern that this is a “power grab” by a few people who want to control the neighborhood.
- Questions about renters getting a vote/say as addressed above.
- Some attendees were definitely against the initiative no matter what.
As always, please submit comments/questions to HistoricCandlerPark@gmail.com
Community engagement workshops and drafting regulations will be lead by a professional planning consultant. Help fund this initiative by making a specified, tax deductible donation to CPNO.