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Avondale Estates City Commission approves historic preservation guidelines, speed cameras

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Avondale Estates City Commission approves historic preservation guidelines, speed cameras

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By Zoe Seiler, contributor

Avondale Estates, GA – The Avondale Estates City Commission approved revised historic preservation guidelines as well as a contract with Blue Line Solutions to install speed cameras near Avondale Elementary School.

After much contention, the city commission narrowly voted to approve the new historic preservation guidelines by a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Brian Fisher and Dee Merriam voted no at the regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 26.

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The city began working with consultants from Lord Aeck Sargent in January to rewrite the historic preservation guidelines. The City Commission approved the new guidelines on Aug. 24.

The guidelines were reviewed by the Georgia Historic Preservation Division as the city received a grant from the organization to conduct the rewrite. The grant stated that the historic preservation guidelines could be improved and had to remain consistent with the city’s ordinance, which says the city has to follow the U.S. Secretary of Interior’s standards for historic preservation, Decaturish previously reported.

The HPD required the city to change the guidelines around window repairs and replacement in historic homes to say that “when windows are determined to be beyond repair, replacement is allowed,” according to the suggested changes listed on the city’s website.

The overall goal of the rewrite was to make the guidelines more clear and objective in order to provide a clear, concise framework for homeowners, City Manager Patrick Bryant previously said. The City Commission and city staff were frustrated by the changes suggested by the HPD.

“There was compromise and I don’t think any of us would say that it was perfect but I think it met the needs. It was extremely disappointing to me to see that the state had submitted back to us that they wanted us to change that language,” Fisher said.

The city and the consultants worked to give homeowners the ability to easily replace windows if they needed to.

“All of us spent months working with the consultant and the community to rewrite these guidelines and the hope was to streamline the process to make decisions more objective and to try and address some of the more contentious issues,” Commissioner Lisa Shortell said.

“However, the window language being insisted on in order to retain the grant that we receive lessens this balance. It takes us back to a more subjective interpretation. It’ll be up to the members of the Historic Preservation Commission to interpret the terms ‘made every effort to protect, maintain and repair’ and the terms ‘beyond repair,’” she added.

Shortell voted yes, but with concern, to approve the guidelines. She couldn’t in good conscience take the risk of giving the grant back to the state and potentially impacting the city’s ability to obtain other grants.

She added another concern that the Historic Preservation Board could make different decisions when the makeup of the board changes.

Mayor Jonathan Elmore echoed Shortell’s concerns and added that overall the guidelines set a much clearer, easier to understand and provide a better process for homeowners.

“I think we’re going to have to take the good that the new guidelines are going to provide and go with it,” Elmore said.

Merriam mentioned that there has been anguish over windows throughout the process and said the city had gotten to a good place with the revised guidelines.

“I did feel like from the very beginning we should have started with what the city is trying to accomplish by having the ordinance and I don’t think that really took place. So I was very disappointed in that,” she said.

Most of the commissioners were concerned about decisions surrounding windows being subjective and open to interpretation by the HPC.

“I do hate that some of that subjectivity has been added back into the code,” Fisher said. “We’ve got a lot of work being done with the city and I too am concerned about the risk associated with allowing us to get on a list where grants that aren’t available to us.”

The revised guidelines will be submitted to the state HPD by Oct. 31, and will be launched following a reevaluation of homes in the historic district to determine if they belong in the preservation or compatible designations.

“I know this is not easy for anyone. I hope we all agree that this is better than what we had, much clearer. I do agree that we need to revisit this in the future,” Elmore said.

In other business, the commissioners unanimously approved a contract with Blue Line Solutions to install speed cameras in the school zone along U.S. 278 near Avondale Elementary School.

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The cameras will only be located within the school zone and warning signs will be placed near the equipment so drivers know they are entering the school zone and know they are being monitored.

“This is, I think, a fantastic idea and resolution to free up time for our police, maintain safety around the school, fines are less, enforcement, being that they’re cameras there’s not any perceived biases around that. It’s good for the city. It’s good for our community. It’s good for the school,” Fisher said.

The city will partner with Blue Line Solutions to administer the program and provide the equipment. The city will also establish a speed threshold and anyone who exceeds that limit more than once would be subject to a citation, Decaturish previously reported.

Currently, the city cannot give a citation unless someone is going 10 miles per hour over the speed limit so the minimum threshold for the cameras would be 11 miles per hour over the speed limit, Bryant explained at the Oct. 21 work session.

Shortell reiterated that it would be illegal for the city to set the limit at anything less than 10 miles per hour over.

At the Oct. 21 work session, Bryant explained that citation would be issued as a civil offense and will be handled in the civil court system.

Assistant City Manager Paul Hanebuth also explained at the work session that the state determines the fine amount and it’s set at $100.

The city has yet to determine when the cameras will be on, Bryant told Decaturish. The cameras could be on only during the time when parents drop off and pick up their children or it could be for the length of the entire school day.

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