The Atlanta City Hall Council Chambers brims with lively discussions on the second and fourth Wednesday evening of each month. On those days, the Atlanta Urban Design Commission (AUDC) convenes to hear, review and comment on applications for proposed architectural and site projects in historic and landmark districts within the city.
The commission consists of two architects, a landscape architect, lawyer, land developer, real estate professional, historic preservationist, artist, historian, neighborhood representative and urban planner who reside in Atlanta and are appointed by the mayor, city council and council president.
Allyson McCarthy, AIA has volunteered as a board member of the commission for the past six years including two years as the chair in 2010 and 2011. This local architect has reviewed hundreds of applications during her tenure. While some applications, including the historic Crum & Forster building and Piedmont Park Master Plan, generate passionate public debate, most applications quietly sail through the approval process. As Allyson finishes her term this fall, she shares her thoughts about the commission.
What attracted you to volunteer for the Atlanta Urban Design Commission?
I wanted the opportunity to review and comment on projects involving City of Atlanta property, right of ways and parks.
What is the biggest misconception about the commission?
Some people believe that the commission disapproves any new projects in historic or landmark districts or that the design regulations come from the whim of board members. The public should know that the board’s approval or denial of a project is based on the applicant’s presentation, the staff report and any testimony presented by the public with regard to the regulations as adopted by the neighborhood incorporating the district.
For a single-family homeowner, what are your tips to smooth the approval process for an AUDC application?
First, educate oneself on the process beforehand by attending an AUDC meeting and speaking to neighbors who had similar projects. Secondly, contact AUDC staff for procedure and documentation requirements.
What are your tips for a commercial property owner such as a restaurateur?
Hire a consultant that can guide the project scope through the district ordinance to efficiently meet the criteria and answer any potential unforeseen zoning issues that arise. The consultant should be comfortable presenting to the commission and be willing to discuss the project with the local neighborhood association if necessary.
Do you have post-commission plans when you leave the AUDC?
Invest that time back into my architecture business, TME Designs and a local non-profit, Caring Works, Inc., where I recently joined the board of directors.