Should Atlanta review the proposed demolition of any building dating back 40 years or more? Could city hotel taxes be directed to saving local history? Those were some of the possible new historic preservation rules floated in a Feb. 27 meeting in Buckhead. And residents who couldn’t make it can weigh in through an online survey here.

Officials also said they plan to do informal, drive-through reviews of areas of the city where they lack historic site information, including three significant sections of Buckhead: Peachtree Hills, North Buckhead and the Chastain Park area. Underwood Hills in Northwest Atlanta is on the list, too, along with many other neighborhoods citywide.

Doug Young, the city’s assistant director of Historic Preservation and executive director of the Urban Design Commission, speaks to residents at the Feb. 27 “Future Places Project” meeting. (John Ruch)

Under the name “Future Places Project,” the city is revamping its Historic Preservation Ordinance, which is roughly three decades old. The update eventually will part of a new city zoning code. Currently, the city’s Urban Design Commission reviews zoning-related protections for 23 historic districts and 63 structures or other landmarks. But it’s considering broader ways to save history, and more popular definitions of “historic” to include sites that shape “community identity.”

The Feb. 27 meeting at the Cathedral of St. Philip, which drew about 25 residents, was part of a second round of public input, following an initial round last fall. Doug Young, the city’s assistant director of Historic Preservation and executive director of the Urban Design Commission, said the final recommendations will be unveiled May 19 at the High Museum during the commission’s Design Awards ceremony.

Tablet computers were available for residents to respond to historic preservation ideas through an online survey. Anyone can fill out the survey online by clicking here. (John Ruch)

Young presented an overview of recommendations for possible new rules and methods borrowed from practices in other cities considered similar to Atlanta, including Denver, Tampa, New Orleans and Austin, Texas. Some of the recommendations were the following:

  • A “Structure of Merit” list, giving certain sites an informal designation as important. Proposed demolition or major alteration could trigger a review for possible formal historic status designation.
  • Directing part of the hotel tax to historic preservation.
  • Better public engagement through social media and other formats.
  • Letting anyone submit a nomination for historic designation.
  • Review of the proposed demolition or major alternation of any structure aged 40 years or older.
  • Tighter regulation of “demolition by neglect,” meaning a structure that is allowed to decay.
  • Regulation of how properties are demolished, such as requiring the salvage of some materials.

The city is already attempting to be innovative in its public engagement on the “Future Places Project,” with feedback methods at the meeting including both sticky notes on boards and surveys on tablet computers. The process also a has a promotional branding element, with giveaways of stickers and T-shirts.

The city’s “Future Places Project” has its own T-shirts. (John Ruch)

Beyond rules and regulations, the city has several other approaches for rethinking and reviewing historic protections. One is an extensive survey of the city’s parks and an inventory of historic resources within them. That work is done, Young said. Another is to establish “The Story of Atlanta” – a set of generally agreed themes of what makes the city special and though which historic sites can be considered and identified. Young said the themes are boiling down to “Struggle and Imperfection,” “Hustle and Hard Work,” “Legacy of Inclusion/Creating Opportunity” and “Upward Movement,” meaning transportation, mobility and accessibility.

Yet another part of the review is special consideration of restricting the size of infill housing as a way to preserve the character of neighborhoods. That idea was a big topic of discussion at the first local meeting in October. At the Feb. 27 meeting, Young provided no material updates, just an overview of some public comments about it.

For more information about the “Future Places Project,” see the Department of City Planning pages on the city website.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.