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Avondale Estates City Commission adopts new historic district classifications

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Avondale Estates City Commission adopts new historic district classifications

Photo obtained via the city of Avondale Estates website.

By Zoe Seiler, contributor

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates historic district now has new classifications. The City Commission adopted the new historic preservation guidelines in October and finished evaluating the homes in the district. The City Commission approved the new property classifications as identified by the consultants from Lord Aeck Sargent during the regular meeting on Wednesday, March 24.

The City Commission approved the new historic district guidelines at the Oct. 26, 2020, regular meeting. The city worked with Lord Aeck Sargent for several months to rewrite the historic preservation guidelines to make them more clear and consistent.

The previous guidelines had a tier system for categorizing homes and specifying the changes homeowners could make to their properties, which had three tiers.

The biggest revision to the historic district guidelines was reducing the number of categories from three to two, Decaturish previously reported.

“With our new guidelines we are moving toward a two-tiered system which is more in line with the Secretary of Interior standards,” Permitting Concierge Coordinator Ken Morris said at the March 10 meeting. “The current tier one and tier two homes are being combined together to make one and it will be called the preservation designation. Those homes that were in tier three would now be in the compatible designation.”

Upon adopting the new guidelines, the City Commission agreed to wait to implement them until a survey of the historic district homes was complete and all properties were placed into the new categories. That survey was finished and several homes changed tiers.

“Those eight homes are recommended as sort of a downgrade from preservation to compatible designation due to the amount of renovation and changes and materials that have been used on the homes,” Morris said at the March 10 meeting. “So the extent of the renovations have been so great that they no longer meet the Secretary of Interior’s standards.”

During the work session, conversations continued about the zoning code rewrite and aspects such as the height of buildings, the transitional height plain and the future of the Architecture Review Board.

No vote was taken on the zoning code rewrite and it will head to the Planning and Zoning Board for additional feedback.

The consensus of the board was to eliminate the Architecture Review Board and add two seats to the Planning and Zoning Board.

This would increase the five-member Planning and Zoning board to seven members. The board would also undergo a name change to the Planning, Zoning and Architecture Board as at least two seats would be reserved for those with architecture expertise.

Commissioner Lisa Shortell, who leans in favor of adding two seats, understands there are pros and cons to adding more seats.

“I think last time we appointed PZB members, I think we only had one excess person so I do think there is a risk in some way of not having enough people to populate the board,” Shortell said. “On the other hand, for me, I really feel strongly about making sure that the architectural component is added in the near term. So, for me, that’s my goal.”

Commissioner Dee Merriam said seven is a workable number. She and Commissioner Lionel Laratte were not in favor of eliminating the Architecture Review Board but felt that adding architecture expertise to the PZB is a good compromise.

“I think seven it just fine and I think it provides for some diversity and stability in the board over time that we might be missing. We currently lost over half the PZB board last December when we had three members come off of it so I was concerned about that,” Merriam said.

In other business, the City Commission contemplated a potential increase of the stormwater fee from $60 to $180 a year.

The board is considering three options. One option is to leave the fee at $60, however, that fee does not generate enough stormwater revenue to address annual maintenance of the stormwater infrastructure, City Manager Patrick Bryant said.

“So we’re actually bringing in less than it takes to maintain existing infrastructure exclusive of any capital work we would want to undertake,” Bryant said. “Now we know we have capital work that we need to undertake and hired Brown and Calwell to identify the first five priority projects.”

The second option is to increase the fee to $120 a year, which would generate enough revenue to address annual maintenance but does not bring in enough money for the city to tackle all five priority projects within three years without having to borrow money.

The city staff’s strongest recommendation, and the last option, is to increase the fee to $180. This would allow the city to fully fund annual maintenance and be able to tackle the priority projects without having to borrow money within the three-year timeline outlined in the priority plan, Bryant said.

Most board members leaned toward increasing the fee to $180 and recognized that it’s a tough decision to triple the amount.

“My opinion is stormwater runoff is going to get worse not better,” Shortell said. “I was super surprised that we didn’t even cover maintenance of our infrastructure.”

Given the cost, the magnitude of the issue and that the city hasn’t tackled stormwater issues in past years, Mayor Jonathan Elmore said the city needs to do this.

“This is another investment in the city that’s going to be worthwhile,” Elmore said. “It’s going to eliminate a lot of the problems that every one of us see every time we have a heavy rain.”

The city took over the stormwater system in 2004 and the fee has not increased since then, Assistant City Manager Paul Hanebuth said.

“If they had just increased by [the Consumer Price Index] every year then they’d be $85 per unit now instead of $60,” Hanebuth said. “So to get to that same increase we’d be talking about doubling the fees instead of tripling them, if that means anything.”

Over that same period, Decatur’s stormwater fee went from $75 to $100, which is about enough to adjust for CPI. Although Decatur’s fee recently increased from $100 to $285, “so it’s not just us that’s seeing the stormwater expenses coming down the pike and trying to get ahead of them,” Hanebuth said.

The City Commission will meet again on April 14 at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom. The board plans to vote on the stormwater fee at the next meeting and may host a special called meeting before April 14 to further discuss this issue.

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