Commission Upholds Five Points Guest House Over Neighbors’ Objections

Photo via MLS.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission narrowly approved a Five Points guest house last week despite residents’ concerns that it will become a party pad for a Hollywood millionaire.

In March, the ACC Historic Preservation Commission approved the guest house, located in the Castalia Avenue historic district, by a 6–1 vote. A group of residents, including Flagpole contributor Rebecca McCarthy, appealed that decision to the ACC Commission, which held a hearing May 17.

The addition to 568 Castalia Ave. will include a 500-square-foot guest house connected to the main house by a large patio and grilling area, along with a storage shed. Hal Wright, a local attorney representing the neighborhood residents, described it as an “entertainment venue.”

Before the March vote, Wright said an HPC member took the unprecedented step of reading a statement from a county attorney telling historic preservation commissioners that they “cannot consider anything outside the basic architectural integrity of the structure.” That statement was both incorrect and an indication that the HPC had already made its decision before debating the merits of the application, Wright said.

“In short, it was an abuse of discretion, and I’m more than comfortable arguing this issue in court,” Wright told ACC commissioners.

The applicant, Christopher Brearton, is the chief operating officer at MGM Studios and lives in Beverly Hills, but said he maintains ties with Athens. He told the commission that he was on the swim team at UGA 35 years ago and once spoke at a graduation ceremony. “Even though I have a West Coast address, this is the place I keep coming back to more and more,” he said. 

Brearton said he bought the property for his family’s use and denied that he wanted to change the character of Castalia Avenue, a neighborhood of mainly small, owner-occupied one-story houses. “I fell in love with the street,” he said. “It’s a beautiful street. I don’t want to change it.” 

He and Sean Hogan, a local homebuilder, argued that they complied with all of planners’ requests, including reducing the size of the guest house and lowering the roofline. The addition will not be visible from the street, Hogan said. But according to Wright, the addition of a guest house goes against the purpose of the historic district—to maintain the appearance of a working-class neighborhood.

The commission voted 5–4 to deny the appeal, with commissioners Mariah Parker, Melissa Link, Tim Denson, Jesse Houle and Carol Myers siding with Brearton and Patrick Davenport, Allison Wright, Russell Edwards and Mike Hamby siding with the residents. Link and Houle said they can’t speculate on how the structure will be used, but if it becomes a party house, Link advised neighbors to call the police about noise and parking issues. Hamby and Edwards, however, said a guest house doesn’t fit in that neighborhood.