Mayor Nancy Denson is "torn" about the Buena Vista Historic District and is considering vetoing it. "I'm keeping my options open," she said this afternoon.
Denson said she is unlikely to sign the ordinance creating the district, which the Athens-Clarke Commission approved 6-4 Tuesday night. In that case, it would become law without her signature. But there is also a chance she could veto it, she said, and she has 10 business days to decide.
Denson said she is opposed to the district because it divided the community. A small number of people were trying to impose their will on the majority, she said.
"To me, the good of the community has to be overwhelming to take away peoples' property rights," she said.
The district could stop developers from building the family-oriented, owner-occupied homes people in the neighborhood say they want, Denson said. It's too big of a risk for a young family to buy a small, older home not knowing if they can afford to renovate or add on to it, and a historic district would make it too risky for developers to build new housing in the neighborhood due, she said. As a result, structures will fall into disrepair, and uncertainty about whether the Historic Preservation would approve new development would drive up prices, she said.
"I just think it's going to deter families from moving in there, bringing middle-class families back into our communities to attend our schools," she said.
But aren't the houses built recently in Buena Vista out of reach for the middle class? "Affordability is irrelevant to historic preservation," Denson said.
The mayor also said she doesn't think the neighborhood—the first streetcar suburb in Athens—is worthy of preserving.
"There are just as many properties that are not historic as there are historic, contributing (properties), and just because something is old doesn't make it historic," she said.
Commissioner Kelly Girtz's compromise plan included 62 lots in the historic district, 52 of them contributing structures. The original map proposed by neighborhood residents and voted down 7–3 Tuesday included 100 lots, 62 contributing.
"I admire Kelly for putting in that work, but he was trying to play Solomon, cutting the baby in half, and you just can't do that," Denson said.
If she does veto the district, supporters would need to find one more vote to override it. Commissioner George Maxwell would be a likely candidate—he voted for the larger district but against the smaller one, presumably as a protest. Maxwell couldn't be reached for comment.
"He better hope (the mayor) does not veto this bill, because he will have a lot of folks upset with him up there," said Commissioner Kathy Hoard.
But Hoard and Commissioner Mike Hamby both said they're confident Denson will allow the district to take effect.