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Developer: Historic Atlanta Home's Destruction was Necessity

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Legal squabble with city prevented preservation, property owner says

It came to light last week that the facade of Ansley Park's historic Craigie House had been unceremoniously demolished, and preservationists across Atlanta cried foul.

But now, the developer behind the demo wants to shed light on a behind-the-scenes, legal squabble with the City of Atlanta to keep the 1911 structure standing in some form. The case speaks to the difficulties inherent in some preservation projects.

Developer Karim Shariff of PacificPoint Realty plans to incorporate relics of home — built by the Daughters of the American Revolution and later abandoned for decades — into a new development on the site off Piedmont Road. Plans are fluid, but Shariff says the site will most likely see three attached luxury townhomes.

Shariff provides the following letter, which has been edited for length and clarity.

...

[To editor]

My company, PacificPoint Realty, LLC is the owner of the former DAR House site which was demolished last week.

As you may know from the property records, we purchased the property in late 2014. The previous owners were mid-way through a restoration project when the epic snowstorm of January 2014 caused the house to collapse. All that was left when we acquired the property was the facade.

At the time of the purchase, we had no time to conduct any due diligence on the site. Given the prime location, we had to do an immediate cash close in order to secure the acquisition. At the time our full intention was to save the facade and incorporate it in to the design of the (subsequent) project. In fact, our plan was to retain the same architect and structural engineering firm that was working on the project with the previous owners, due to their familiarity with the facade.

In fact, my general disposition is always to maintain the historic character of any properties we acquire. PPR was the primary partner in the rehab and development of the townhomes located at 5th and Piedmont. We saved an old home on that site and built some very modern design units off the back of it. You wrote about it when we first released the renderings in 2014. The AJC did a write up talking about it as a good example of what developers should be doing in this city. It was a good juxtaposition of old and new.

When purchasing DAR, my hope was to continue the storyline. I am an Atlanta native and care about promoting responsible development that will retain the unique and historic nature of the City.

Unfortunately, the demise of the facade was driven by two things: its terrible condition coupled with an order from City Code Enforcement to demolish what remained of the facade.

Within a few months after the acquisition we received a code enforcement citation from the city ... Essentially, we were facing three charges related to a partial structure which is considered a hazard and against code. The fines for these charges start between $1,500 and $2,500 and penalties can get steeper by the month if not remediated.

We went to court and explained that this was a historic property (even though it didn't carry the official designation anymore) and there was significant interest by the community to attempt to save it. We vehemently fought the charges, ending up in court about six or seven times explaining to the judge that it would take time to assess, secure, plan, and permit new structure. The court would defer the case to a date four weeks out and insist that anything less that an application number from the building department (or demolishing of the facade) would constitute a failure to follow the order.

This process continued for five or six cycles. We spent a considerable amount of time and expense working with two architectural firms and a structural engineer to figure out how we could stabilize the facade and incorporate it in a new structure. But with the constant threats of four weeks of runway, we were never given the opportunity to take the right approach.

In December, we got a final order from the judge: demolish or start facing penalties. Shortly after we got an assessment from our structural engineer, which did not bode well for our ability to save the facade as a whole. (Editor's note: the report summarizes that restoration and reuse of the existing facade would likely not have been economically feasible and recommends that it quickly be demolished "in light of the potential safety hazard.")

Earlier this year, we received a final order to demolish the property. And given the latest structural report it, we didn't really have any other options. Our deadline was yesterday (April 18) when we had to go back in to court and show pictures of the cleared site. The case has now finally been dismissed.

We have saved the cornerstone, several pallets of bricks, and other components that we hope to reclaim in the new development of the site. Although the program was not yet been finalized, we will certainly keep in mind the historic value of the property and do our best to recognize that in the new design.

Karim Shariff, PacificPoint Realty, LLC