May 15, 2017

Commission Will Vote Tuesday on Demolition Bans

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The Varsity's owners plan to demolish this 160-year-old Queen Anne house at 853 Reese Street that was once owned by slaves-turned-dentists James and Charlotte Mack and renowned educator Annie Burney.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission will vote Tuesday on whether to temporarily ban demolitions and new construction on Milledge Circle and in the Hancock Corridor while protections are being considered for those historic neighborhoods.

Milledge Circle homeowners have been spurred on by the imminent destruction of 398 Milledge Circle, continuing a recent trend of home-buyers snapping up historic properties only to demolish the houses to make way for much larger structures. A majority petitioned the commission for a historic district earlier this month.

Across town, the Gordy family, which owns The Varsity, applied for permits to demolish seven structures on the same block as the fast-food landmark, including several historic houses.  The neighborhood along Hanock Avenue west of Milledge—listed on the National Register of Historic Places—is under threat because it's zoned multifamily, which is likely to entice developers looking to tear down older residences for denser and more expensive housing, according to a recent study of the West Broad area. Some residents have called for the neighborhood to be rezoned for small single-family lots.

The one-year West Hancock moratorium would not apply to commercially zoned property along Broad, Milledge and Chase streets. It also includes an exception for people who want to add onto the backs of their existing houses.

Mayor Nancy Denson refused to put the moratoriums on the agenda for a special called session before Tuesday's agenda-setting meeting, so commissioners resorted to a rarely used procedure allowing them to force an item on the agenda with the support of five commissioners.

For the Five Points moratorium, Commissioner Allison Wright collected signatures from nine commissioners—all except Diane Bell, who angered consituents earlier this month when she lifted a 90-day hold on a demolition permit for 398 Milledge Circle, allowing the demolition to move forward. County Manager Blaine Williams notified commissioners today that the home's new owners have received the permit.

The Hancock Corridor moratorium, though, remains in doubt. Commissioner Melissa Link collected five signatures—from herself, Wright and commissioners Kelly Girtz, Jared Bailey and Jerry NeSmith. That's enough to force a vote, but not enough to prevent Denson from vetoing the moratorium if it passes. Seven votes are required to overcome a veto.

The meeting will start at 6 p.m. in City Hall. Commissioners will also take input on the county's fiscal 2018 budget, which will be approved June 6.