Andrew Fenlon can sit on his front porch and count off the changes he’s seen on his block through the years. When he moved onto Peachtree Hills Avenue decades ago, “most of these houses were split up [into apartments]. It was very transient,” he said. “Now there’s a resurgence of families coming into the neighborhood.”
Changes keep coming. About two years ago, Ann Stacy, a scenic artist who works in films, bought a house across the street, a triplex, moved in and started fixing it up.
Just a couple of doors down the hill, Dave and Barbara Mason, who’d decided to leave the suburbs for the city, moved in and added a second story onto their house.
Owners of Fenlon’s home have been able to watch change come to Peachtree Hills since even before there officially was a Peachtree Hills. Fenlon, who’s 54, says he’s lived at 60 Peachtree Hills Avenue for 35 years himself. Back in the 1980s, he rented the place with some buddies. He ended up buying it, remodeling it and staying put.
Fenlon believes his house was built sometime about 1910, in the days of gas lights and steam heat. He’s posted a medallion to his mailbox saying so. Many of the houses around him date to the 1920s or later, and Fenlon’s Craftsman-style home shows up as the only structure on the street in some of the earliest images of the neighborhood.
“It was here as they were selling the lots,” he said.
Like Fenlon’s home, Peachtree Hills seems to have settled comfortably into its surroundings. Originally it was one of a string of suburban developments built along the streetcar line that rolled past on Peachtree. Now it’s a city neighborhood with a mixture of house styles and local shops within walking distance.
High-rise buildings tower near the 650-or-so-home community that stretches from Peachtree Road nearly to Piedmont Avenue and touches Lindbergh Avenue on the north. Cars bounce over speed humps and past other “traffic calming” constructions built into the streets, yet the neighborhood remains, as Barbara Mason described it, a “front porch community.”
It’s the kind of place where, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, joggers trot past as couples push baby carriages down the sidewalk. Houses fly flags for universities – Georgia here, Georgia Tech there, even Alabama. Dave Mason says he can’t wait to add his Auburn flag to the mix next fall.
“This is a neighborhood where it seems like everybody owns a dog,” said resident Frank McCord, a 76-year-old mostly retired teacher who’s lived in Peachtree Hills a half century, grows dahlias in his backyard and shares his home with a dog named Plato.
Elena and Nick Balmes, out for a walk on Peachtree Hills Avenue one recent Sunday afternoon and pushing a stroller containing their 9-month-old son, William, see their neighborhood as a friendly place. “One of the things we like most about being here is everybody seems to be outdoors,” Elena Balmes said. “It’s very friendly. You can talk to just about anybody… It’s like a little village.”
One reason it’s stayed that way, residents say, is because Peachtree Hills homeowners have repeatedly fought the threats the city poses.
Kathleen Moriarity, who moved onto Roanoke Avenue in 1985, not long after she moved south from New England, says they have no choice. “Look at us. We’re in the doughnut hole,” she said. “We have highrises on Peachtree and highrises on Piedmont. We have to fight to protect our boundaries.”
They have fought hard, said Moriarity, a former zoning committee chair for the Peachtree Hills Civic Association who was active in many of the recent battles. At one point, the neighborhood assembled two busloads of homeowners to attend a zoning meeting to protest a decision.
Most recently, neighborhood representatives negotiated with developers to win changes to a proposed apartment tower on Peachtree on the edge of the neighborhood.
During negotiations, the developers agreed to reduce the number of stories in the building and to redesign it, Moriarity said. In return, a civic association email survey showed that 80 percent of the respondents backed the new plan for the building.
That helped it win approval during a recent meeting of the Neighborhood Planning Unit that makes recommendations to the city on zoning changes in the area.
Fenlon says Peachtree Hills residents have been successful in dealing with new development because they’ve been willing to talk to developers. “I think progress is a good thing as long as it’s done responsibly. This is a desirable area and it’s going to grow. There’s no way to stop the growth,” he said. “My sense is the neighborhood is sensible about keeping developers from ruining the sense of the neighborhood while allowing progress to continue.”
Despite the changes, Fenlon says Peachtree Hills keeps “the old neighborhood feel. All the houses don’t look the same. You’re not stuck back in some subdivision where you have to drive everywhere.”
That’s part of what attracted the Masons to Peachtree Hills. They sold their home in a swim-tennis community in Roswell to move into the city. They lived in a carriage house in the backyard of their new home in Peachtree Hills while they renovated and expanded the house. Now they’re settling in.
The neighborhood, Dave Mason said, “has unique character. It’s a good mixed-aged community, with a lot of young families.”
“A lot of couples,” Barbara Mason said.
“There’s a good variety,” her husband added. “Everyone is very social.”