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Despite pushback, Poncey-Highland residents elect to create historic district

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The move could ultimately protect older buildings from the wrecking ball

A picture of a low-rise apartment complex with a yard covered in fallen leaves.
The owner of the North High Ridge Apartments had opposed the creation of the historic district.
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On Wednesday, hundreds of Poncey-Highland residents cast ballots in an election that could pave the way for historic preservation in the neighborhood for years to come.

Since the regularly scheduled community meeting was canceled due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, most people voted via absentee ballot.

Of the 358 votes tallied, 259—roughly 75 percent of voters—were in support of creating the Poncey-Highland Historic District, which would ward off the wrecking ball from the neighborhood's many historic buildings and grant neighbors some say in how future development pans out.

Supporters of the historic district have said that creating a development framework is crucial to ensuring Atlanta’s development trends don’t transform the neighborhood without proper community input.

The newly approved historic district proposal would also allow for some unique changes to properties that might be out-of-bounds in traditional historic districts:

  • Full second-story additions on historic residential properties;
  • Upper-story additions on historic commercial properties;
  • Painted brick (with special paint);
  • Modern additions in the rear of houses;
  • Contemporary/modern developments on infill lots.

Although Atlanta’s planning commissioner Tim Keane said in December that a new historic district “would protect scores of old apartment buildings, which provide great affordable units,” some took issue with the proposal, pointing to worries that affordability could be lost.

For example, Thomas Carmichael, who owns the North High Ridge Apartments on North Avenue, along with other Poncey-Highland rentals and the Highland Inn, urged some of his tenants to vote against the historic district plan. He warned that creating restrictions based on how to maintain his properties would force him to up rent prices.

Not so, said historic district proponents.

Most historic districts would require changes to mesh with the local government’s historic preservation guidelines—imagine having to buy older, pricier materials, rather than just whatever Home Depot has in stock—but supporters pointed out that this case would be different.

The Poncey-Highland plan would allow alterations of historic structures to be made with non-historic materials, as long as they’re compatible with the existing construction’s style.

The Poncey-Highland Historic District isn’t a done deal just yet, however.

The results of Wednesday’s election still have to go before the local neighborhood planning unit (NPU-N), as well as the City of Atlanta’s Zoning Review Board, which has canceled its April hearing due to concerns of the virus.