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What Makes A Good ATL Neighbor, Architecturally Speaking?

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A wave of teardowns and new construction in one of Atlanta's most desirable enclaves, Virginia-Highland, has sparked vigorous debate about what being a good neighbor entails there, from an architectural standpoint. To that end, Lola Carlisle, Virginia-Highland Civic Association vice president, dusted off a 2009 study of historic preservation guidelines by Georgia State University. Va-Hi is actually a collection of subdivisions built across several decades; the residential architecture has always been fairly diverse, and that's only intensifying. When it comes to property overhauls, Carlisle shaves the exhaustively detailed study down to a few points — a personal list "of five key do's and don'ts that go to the heart of what makes some renovated houses fit in nicely and leave others looking like they belong on a 1-acre lot." (And her philosophy is probably applicable across Atlanta).

Carlisle begins with what she calls "The Golden Rule" — that is, building to the neighborhood scale. "Find an architect who will work very hard not to plunge the neighbors into perpetual shade or make them feel they are living in the shadow of a castle," she writes.

Next, she advises: "Modify the existing roofline as little as possible, especially in front. There are numerous examples in this neighborhood of homes with greatly expanded capacity that do not dwarf their neighbors or appear grossly out of scale when viewed from the street."

Then, taking a jab at blasted suburbia, she wisely goes here: "Don't put garages on the front of the house. They stand out like a sore suburban thumb, and exiting your car directly into the house reduces interaction with your neighbors."

And then she waxes technical: "Matching the existing front setbacks on your street will help any house fit into its setting. While this may require an extra administrative step, the variance process was created to consider exactly this sort of challenge."

Lastly, she nods to Virginia-Highland's history: "Be thoughtful about your choice of exterior building materials; use the predominant historic ones on your block."

Care to agree, or disagree? Do any blatant violations of these rules come to mind, in Virginia-Highland or any other Atlanta neighborhood? (We're looking at you, McMansions near Freedom Parkway and Boulevard.)

· Teardown work in progress in Virginia Highland [Architectural Tourist]