Habitat homes in historic West End should follow designated guidelines

By Guest Columnist KATHI WOODCOCK, a resident of the West End Historic District for five years and member of the West End Preservation Committee

The Atlanta Urban Design Commission’s website states: “It is the mission of the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance that any changes which occur to a designated property be in keeping with the historic character of the building or district.”

The West End Historic District, once known as White Hall, was established in 1835, and predates the City of Atlanta. West End is a vibrant community that takes pride in its 100-plus-year-old homes and designation on the National Register of Historic Places.

The neighborhood is in an active resurgence; most of the homes have been beautifully restored, or are in that process. The architectural integrity is promoted by the abidance of historical guidelines, approved by the City.

Kathi Woodcock

Kathi Woodcock

The Atlanta Habitat For Humanity is building a house in this district. It knew it was a designated Historic District when it bought the property. When Habitat’s plan to build was announced and presented to the neighborhood, the members of the homeowners’ association, West End Neighborhood Development, voted to request a denial of the proposal by the Urban Design Commission. This decision was based on the lack of character-defining elements, the square footage of the habitable space, and the insensitivity to the neighborhood’s historic standards.

Recognizing Habitat’s need for flexibility in design, a contingent of neighbors met with Habitat in May to voice concerns and offer suggestions for adding character to the planned house.

A sampling of homes from the historic West End community

A sampling of homes from the historic West End community

Although some small revisions were made, Habitat’s response was that, “the cost would severely impact the affordability of the finished product,” a stance that was very disappointing to the residents who have actively promoted the architectural integrity of their historic district.

The Atlanta Urban Design Commission (UDC) approved Habitat’s plan, although this proposed house is more than 500 square feet smaller than the average house on the block face. In 2013, the UDC asked that a new home being built on that same block be decreased by five feet in depth because it was larger than the largest existing home.

In an effort to help Habitat in pursuit of it mission, the historic guidelines appear to not have been applied equally – unfortunately disregarding the neighborhood’s worthy mission. All late 19th century homes had large front porches, and one or more chimneys.

Another home in West End (Photos are courtesy of Kathi Woodcock)

Another home in West End (Photos are courtesy of Kathi Woodcock)

The Habitat house does not. The few extra dollars to bring the structure into conformity has been the issue. Just adding a porch to the Habitat house would go a long way to having it fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.

At this time, Habitat For Humanity is still unwilling to make further revisions to the exterior of the house to reflect the intent of the guidelines and the character of West End Historic District.

Habitat’s rigid, cost-centric approach to building design does not allow for adequate flexibility when building in an historic district even though the organization knew West End was a historic district when it bought the lot.

Not applying historic guidelines equally to everyone and allowing the building of a visually non-compatible house in West End will set a dangerous precedent for infill construction practices in ALL of Atlanta’s historic districts.

Another West End home

Another West End home

And yet another West End home

And yet another West End home

 

 

9 replies
  1. 54pontiac says:

    The problem is not Habitat, it’s UDC for not doing it’s job. Just as with 20 Hilliard St., UDC appears to be a rubber stamp when it comes to organizations, but a stickler to individuals. Keep up the good work, West End Neighborhood Development. Thanks for letting us know about this.Report

    Reply
  2. Priorities says:

    Can we perhaps stop insisting that houses built in 2014 should be disguised as to “look historic?” What kind of ridiculous goal is a “historic-looking” building anyway? Modern homes should look modern, old homes should look old. If the alleged purpose of your group is historic preservation, perhaps you shouldn’t be so preoccupied with what a charitable organization is doing on an _empty lot._Report

    Reply
  3. HubSch says:

    @Priorities Correct – to build new houses just to make them “look old” is not very ingenioust. However somehow the style of modern homes has to correspond positively with the neighborhood.  So the question is ultimately in the eye of the beholder !Report

    Reply
  4. Jim says:

    Thank you for covering this. Habitat’s behavior is inexcusable, as is the Atlanta Urban Design Commission. Shame on them. They need to respect the neighborhoods in which they invade.Report

    Reply
  5. Jim says:

    @Priorities It is not about making it look historic. It is about proper scale and design; indeed, modern looking homes can be a nice contrast to existing historic homes. Downtown Boston is an excellent example of how new buildings can work well with old. Historic preservationists are not interested in making something look historic, but in preserving existing, real, historic structures while having new structures compatible with the scale and design of the neighborhood.Report

    Reply
  6. Priorities says:

    @Jim Well, “All late 19th century homes had large front porches, and one or more chimneys. The Habitat house does not.” does sound an awful lot like an attempt at forcing all new construction to “look like” late 19th century architecture.Report

    Reply
  7. JenniferCarlile says:

    @Jim I understand your point, but I take issue with the term, “invade.” Habitat owns the property; the organization didn’t steal it from West End. That said, I think Habitat and the UDC should have ensured that codes appropriate to a historic district wear applied.Report

    Reply

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