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Decatur Historic Preservation Commission recommends denial of Smarties Academy expansion

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Decatur Historic Preservation Commission recommends denial of Smarties Academy expansion

Architect Erik Lewitt (far left) and Smarties Academy Founder Bogna Kabat presented plans to expand the daycare to the Decatur Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday, Feb. 23, at city hall. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur Historic Preservation Commission, at its Feb. 23 meeting, decided to recommend that the city and planning commissions deny an application from Smarties Academy for a conditional use permit and a zoning map amendment.

The Decatur City Commission approved the conditional use permit on March 21, 2022, with the condition that the enrollment was capped at 148 students.

Smarties Academy is now seeking to increase its enrollment to 300 students and to construct another building on the property next to the existing daycare facility. The zoning map amendment would put a limit on student enrollment and the zoning would remain institutional.

Smarties Academy is located at the Common Table Church at 465 Clairemont Ave. In March 2022, the daycare requested a zoning change from low density residential and single-family residential to institutional. The daycare has also requested a conditional use permit to operate the daycare.

The property was previously developed as a church campus for The Common Table, formerly known as the Lutheran Church of The Messiah. Common Table ended its ministry at the end of 2021.

The current buildings on the property are connected and have one-story and two-story portions. There is an existing parking lot on the property with 47 spaces, according to the application.

“The proposed addition and renovation would include a new two-story structure, with a ground floor at the level of the parking lot and a second floor above,” the application states. “The addition would include a connection stair and elevator to the lower level of the existing building, making a portion of the addition three stories.”

The current daycare facility is about 33 feet tall at its highest point. The proposed new building would be about 38 feet at its highest point. The plan also proposes to increase the number of parking spaces to 74.

The historic preservation commission was established to ensure that work in the city’s five historic districts and two historic properties are consistent with the character of their neighborhoods. The commission issues certificates of appropriateness for exterior projects, which has to be done before a building permit can be issued, according to the city’s website.

The commission did not vote on a certificate of appropriateness at the Feb. 23 meeting, but did recommend that the planning and city commissions deny the application for the conditional use permit.

“My reason is that it does not reference the surrounding properties and that that addition as presented can be seen from Clairemont,” said board member Maya Hahn, who made the motion for the recommendation.

The massing and height and the style of the new addition are too large and modern compared to the Gothic stone historic church on the site, board chair Andrew Navratil said.

The property falls within the Clairemont Avenue Historic District, and the commission looks at the parts of the project that are visible from Clairemont Avenue.

Navratil noted that when the commission considers a certificate of appropriateness, it looks at whether there’s a “substantial adverse effect on the aesthetic, character or architectural significance and value of a historic property or historic district,” he said.

“In making this determination, we consider in addition to other pertinent factors, the historical and architectural value and significance, the architectural style, general design arrangement, texture and material of the architectural features involved, and the relationship thereof to the exterior architectural style and pertinent features of the other structures in the immediate neighborhood,” Navratil said. “I think, for me, given everything I’ve seen [on Thursday], when I consider that standard, I think there probably is a substantial adverse impact on the aesthetic, the historic and the architectural significance of that church.”

The planning and city commissions will also have to consider the conditional use permit application, and the city commission will make the final decision. The project would eventually come before the HPC for a certificate of appropriateness.

The planning commission will discuss the application at its meeting in April.

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