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35 Williams Street
Council Tables Demolition Until April; Fate of Historic 1897 Cottage Uncertain
Had the preservation ordinance been in effect, a preservation commission would conduct demolition hearings in the designated historic district. In December the council bowed to special interests and failed to set a boundary for a local preservation district. In January, the council rescinded the preservation ordinance, achieving state-wide notoriety by becoming the only city in Georgia, perhaps in the nation, to take such action twice. The first time was in the 1980s at the beginning of rapid growth. Guyton and Wrens have rescinded an ordinance once each.
Georgia has 130 cities with preservation ordinances, according to sources at UGA's College of Preservation and Environmental Design. These ordinances provide a road map for a protection process in designated local historic districts. More than 70 of these cities meet standards for a Certified Local Government (CLG), entitling them to a matching grant program, according to Jennifer Martin Lewis, Georgia Certified Local Government Coordinator.
Following close on the heels of council's rejection of the two ordinances came two more applications in February to alter the historic district: a proposed demolition of the 1897 Cook's Cabin at 35 Williams Street and an application for a used car lot on the Lawrenceville Street gateway. We had the tools in place to say no defensively to unwanted intrusions that threaten the historic district's character. We have to hope citizens can convince the council to reconsider its position."
With the ordinance and commission gone, the moratorium on demolitions in effect during the council ratification period is lifted and the council is free to conduct Demolition hearings in a one-step, one shot process, with a yes/no vote, without consideration of historical or other neighborhood impact, and without adequate staff support, as was evident in the February 4 council meeting. All other city boards have a 2-step process. (Planning and Zoning and ARB) Had the preservation commission been in place to hear demolition petitions in the designated historic district, the council would have benefit of research support before hearing any appeal.
The city's historic district suffers without a protective ordinance in place:
The first ordinance was adopted and rescinded 6 months later, sometime in the late 1980s, after Norcross had acquired its National Registry listing, when a small, vocal group of special interests complained to the council. Shortly after, the Hometown Inn was built in the historic district.
Acquiring a local ordinance is a democratic process. Unlike naming an Architecture Review Board that is simply appointed by the council and no citizen input, a historic preservation ordinance requires an open and fair process set out by state law. A city can become a Certified Local Government (CLG) and entitled to state matching grants and other opportunities. First, an ordinance must be written. Over a dozen citizens worked on the local ordinance for three years from 2004 until its adoption by city council in August 2006. There were many revisions.
Council must pass an Enabling Ordinance so a commission can be appointed and a historic resources survey done. The council passed the Enabling Ordinance in August, 2006. The council appropriated $25,000 to pay for the survey, and the preservation commission recommended the Terracon Company out of 18 respondents to the RFP nationwide search. The Council accepted the commission's recommendation and the commission worked with Terracon through the summer of 2007. The Historic Resources Survey was completed in August, 2007. Terracon identified some 266 worthy properties in Norcross.
In 2007, all commissioners took multiple training classes under auspices of UGA and the Georgia Alliance of Historic Preservation Commissions (GPAC). The next step is to draw a boundary of historic property resources to be protected. The commission did this work in the fall and after deliberation and public input, sent 266 letters to historic property owners affected inviting them to the hearing. The commission recommended to the council a boundary that follows the present National Registry boundary.
It would have been up to the council to mediate, draw the boundary larger or smaller, and ratify a Designation Ordinance, so that the commission could begin conducting certificate of appropriateness hearings in the designated historic district and The Architecture Review Board (ARB) that presently conducts COA hearings in the entire city, would conduct hearings in the rest of the city. ARB members are not required to take training. Although the ARB board includes two architects, neither is known to be a preservation architect. The ARB board would be concerned with specific aspects of a property, whereas the preservation commission would look more globally at how changes would affect a historic streetscape and historic neighborhood character. Last fall, the Community Development Director was authorized to go out for RFP's for a Consulting Company to support the preservation commission's work. Piedmont Consulting was the top contender. After much hard work, Norcross was finally on its way to ensuring survival of its historic district core.
Respecting the Past?
Without an explanation, the council suddenly reversed itself. The Designation Ordinance died for lack of a second following the Dec. 3 Council Hearing. No discussion. No mediation. No explanation. At the Jan. 3 council meeting, Councilman Jeff Allen brought a resolution to rescind the original Enabling Ordinance. Councilman David McLeroy seconded. Councilman Charlie Riehm offered a motion to table for 60 days to allow the commission time to work on its Rescue Plan developed at the commission's December 19 special called meeting. Riehm's motion died for lack of a second, ensuring no discussion and no mediation. The council voted 4-1 on Allen's motion to rescind the Enabling Ordinance.
The vote: YES; (Shewbert, McLeroy, Allen, Newton); NO: (Riehm)
The commission received a letter from the Community Development Director the following week saying the commission was dissolved.
"Respecting the Past; Embracing the Future" is the city's new promotional motto. A number of citizens worked very hard, giving up thousands of volunteer hours, to help respect and protect the town's history. The council spent a lot of money in support, then caved in to a few vocal special interests and voted to destroy this work, thereby leaving historic property owners and the city's unique history vulnerable to rapid-fire over-development. This means more demolitions and loss of tree canopy.
Reportedly, the Architecture Review Board (ARB) is considering taking some preservation commission training classes to try and close the gap left by the Commission's departure. While all city staff and appointed boards are invited to take preservation commission training classes, state experts do not recommend an ARB do design reviews in a historic district.
Used Car Lot Rezoning Application on Lawrenceville Street Gateway
Following on the heels of council's rejection of the two ordinances, and the 35 Williams Street demolition request, residents were alarmed to learn of a proposed rezoning for a used car lot on the Lawrenceville Street gateway before the Planning and Zoning Board February 20.
We had the tools in place to say no defensively to unwanted intrusions that threaten the historic district's character. We have to hope citizens can convince the council to reconsider its position.
Instead of an open and democratic process that serves all, the city's historic future is held hostage to insider trading and backroom deals that enrich only a few at the expense of our rich history.
© 2008 Save Historic Norcross. Comments? Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The information presented on this website taken from public sources is believed accurate but not warranted.