Tuxedo Park residents hope temporary construction controls that went into effect June 14 will protect the character of their neighborhood, which they believe is threatened by new, large houses.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Mercy Sandber-Wright, a board member and former president of the Tuxedo Park Civic Association.
The Atlanta City Council voted unanimously on June 5 to impose new controlson demolition and construction of single-family homes in the neighborhood. The new rules require any planned house to be smaller than the largest existing house on the block. The controls will be in effect for six months.
The Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association, a trade association, declined to comment about the ordinance. Another major developer advocacy organization, the Council for Quality Growth, could not be reached for comment.
The ordinance comes after residents fought against construction of a mansion on Woodhaven Road. Residents argued the planned home was too large for their neighborhood and objected to the number of trees cut down to make way for the house, and on May 16, construction was halted by the city. A smaller home was demolished to make way for the mansion. The owner of the mansion, Christian Fletcher, declined to comment on the new controls.
A historic mansion designed by famous Atlanta architect Philip Shutze also was demolished in Tuxedo Park last year.
The Buckhead Heritage Society, which advocates for the protection of historic buildings, supports the ordinance for a neighborhood that has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.
“While many of our historic neighborhoods are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the designation does not protect properties within those districts from demolition,” Carmie McDonald, the society’s executive director, said in an email. “We support the development of local ordinances that provide protection for our irreplaceable historic resources.”
Jay Steele, president of the Tuxedo Park Civic Association, emphasized that his neighborhood is not against development, but that residents want some input in the new construction and demolition. Recent developments made residents realize there are almost no restrictions on new construction, Steele said.
“We wanted a method to be mindful of keeping the character of the neighborhood,” Steele said.
The ordinance prevents the Department of City Planning from issuing any permits to demolish or construct homes in the neighborhood without the plans being vetted by city officials first.
The ordinance instructs city planning officials to direct anyone seeking a permit to build and tear down homes in Tuxedo Park to the director of the Office of Zoning and Development. The property owner must send plans to that office, and the director will determine if the planned house is an appropriate size for the neighborhood, which is near Chastain Park.
To be considered compatible to the neighborhood, the proposed house will have to be no larger than the largest house on the block.
Councilmember Mary Norwood said she drafted the ordinance in response to messages she got from the civic association board and residents concerned about development. Norwood also lives in Tuxedo Park and saw how the development was changing her neighborhood.
Large houses and clear-cutting are particular problems for Tuxedo Park because most homes sit on large lots surrounded by wooded land. When homeowners have that extra acreage, it allows them to build much larger houses than in most other areas in the city, Norwood said.
“The city code is not designed to handle areas with wooded land,” she said.
Norwood hasn’t heard that the problem is prevalent in other neighborhoods, but said any other neighborhoods that need similar controls can contact her.
The ordinance is also intended to protect trees in the neighborhood from clear-cutting that happens when large developments are built, a measure resident Jean Astrop said is desperately needed. Developers cut down as many trees as they need to and pay the recompense fees required by the city, she said. But she argues those fees are small compared to the costs of building the mansions.
“They just laugh about it. They say it’s the cost of doing business,” said Astrop, who is on the civic association board.
That presents a problem for the block of Woodhaven Road, where the large mansion is being built, Sandber-Wright said. Even if a new house on that road is extremely large, it can still be approved, because the mansion being built sets the standard.
Tuxedo Park’s boundaries are Northside Drive, West Paces Ferry Road, Habersham Road and Powers Ferry Road.
The controls will last for six months, but Norwood said the problem will be addressed permanently in the city’s zoning rewrite.
Astrop believes the neighborhood needs permanent protection and other neighborhoods could benefit from similar controls.
“I think zoning rules need to be rethought not just for Tuxedo Park, but the whole city,” she said.