Is it Time for Design Standards in Athens?

Some wonder: Is it time for design standards in older Athens neighborhoods?

This house replaces one torn down earlier in 2013.
This house replaces one torn down earlier in 2013.
This new house sits at Pinecrest and University, where a one-story ranch built in the 1950s was torn down earlier this year.

The new house is larger than the prior one. It's larger than some of the other houses on University Drive. So are many of the new homes going up in Five Points.

The demolition of the Stiles house and the construction of a new, larger house have prompted some in the neighborhood to call for the ACC Planning Commission and County Commission to adopt design standards. 

These wouldn't say what style a house should be or even how large, but would specify a certain setback requirement and a height limitation. These rules, some believe, would help control the scale of new houses in older, in-town neighborhoods.

What do you think? Would design standards work? Or should local government put any rules on what someone does with his or her property? 
Melissa Link October 21, 2013 at 09:00 AM
Yes, it most certainly is. The McMansionification of our older neighborhoods is not only threatening the aesthetic character of our quaint & livable community, it is bringing about rampant homogenization of the social fabric of in-town Athens. This is in part due to deliberate market manipulation by realtor/developer "investors" who obtain ownership of modest properties & will not consider assessed rate offers. Instead they seek out high-end purchasers who seek to maintain suburban lifestyles in our urban communities by either tearing down quaint cottages to build sorawling estate-style homes or tacking on ginormous additions. Not only does this negatively affect surronding neighbors, who often find their once-sunny gardens suddenly shaded by mammoth structures & are discomforted by the fact that their new neighbors can peer into their backyards from the seclusion of upstairs rooms, but families & individuals of modest means who wish to live in a walkable neighborhood close to 5 Pts, Downtown, & Normaltown shopping & restaurants, neighborhood schools, & assorted UGA opportunities increasingly cannot afford to live in traditionally middle and working-class neighborhoods. Instead they are forced to settle in traditionally lower-income in-town areas. Some may argue that this is a wholly positive trend in that it drives up property values & leads to "fixing up" around these neighborhoods, but it also is leading to widespread displacement of our lower and median-income neighbors. In addition to traditional working-class citizens on whom the upper-classes rely for everyday services, many of these lower-income folks are vital members of the creative community that put Athens on the map. This gentrification forces them to scramble for affordable housing on extremely limited budgets and more & more are settling on the outskirts of town or in the outer counties--far away from jobs & services & far away from the in-town cultural community that they often helped create. Couple this with the massive influx of luxury student housing downtown and the rising commercial rents that are bringing about the himogenization & corporate gentrification of our business/cultural core and shutting out local businesses, and that funky, eclectic, artsy, affordable character for which Athens is known around the world is an endangered species. Fewer creative types can afford to settle here, and more & more of those who've been here a while are seeking out other cities to call home. With a median household income of $37k--far lower than the national or state levels--and in-town home prices tending toward the half-mil range, why would anyone on a modest budget even consider moving here? Athens' cultural community is its golden egg, and unless some serious changes to our policy, planning, zoning, & economic initiatives are implemented very soon, that goose is dying ....
Rebecca McCarthy October 21, 2013 at 09:09 AM
Wow, Melissa, thanks for commenting. I believe the planning department has a paper on design standards on the shelf that was done by Martha Walker and Carol Goerig years ago. Will have to ask about that. Wonder how the Commission feels?


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