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Atlanta’s Zoning Review Board unanimously voted to recommend approval of the Poncey-Highland Historic District after over an hour of deliberation Thursday, August 13. Members of the Poncey-Highland Neighborhood Association initially voted to create the historic district in March.
Among the advocates for the historic district were executive director of the Urban Design Commision Doug Young and TSW principal Caleb Racicot, along with members of the neighborhood association.
“Our big picture goal was to give the Poncey-Highland master plan regulatory teeth, while our neighborhood still had a sense of place to save,” Poncey-Highland Neighborhood Association’s land use committe chair Lisa Malaney said during the deliberation which was digitally broadcasted Thursday. “[The historic district is] a creative and flexible response by the city to the problems Poncey-Highland was trying to address. It will guide and manage development in our neighborhood in a way that honors its history, embraces its future potential, and it’s fair and predictable for everyone.”
Among the participants against the historic district were Thomas Carmichael Jr., co-owner of the North High Ridge Apartments on North Avenue and The Highland Inn & Ballroom, and his lawyer, David Metzger of Williams Teusink. Carmichael, who filed a demolition permit for the nearly century-old Highland Inn in mid-July of this year and outlined tentative plans to build a mixed-use development in its place, argued that the vote for the historic district was exclusionary.
“I feel like we didn’t get a vote,” Carmichael said. “We were not allowed to vote in the process. Renters originally were allowed to vote and then they weren’t, but I just wanted to bring that up. It feels a bit one-sided, I guess.”
Only residents, owners and tenants, were allowed to vote. Though non-resident property owners, business owners, commercial property owners, and multifamily property owners weren’t allowed to vote in the election, Malaney said they were invited to join the ordinance’s drafting process.
“So while our bylaws do exclude them from the vote, they were able to participate in the process,” Malaney said. “There are about 50 commercial property owners in the neighborhood, give or take. So, even if they voted, and they all voted against the proposed district, it still would have passed based on the support.”
A total of 358 residents voted in the election and 259 voted in favor of a historic district while 88 voted against. Eleven of the votes, a mixture of support, oppose and no option votes, were determined to be invalid.
Metzger also argued that with the pandemic hitting renters and small businesses, “now is not the time to put a whole new set of regulations on every property in this neighborhood.” Metzger recommended that the board approve a 90-day deferral for the ordinance.
Protective regulations around proposed historic districts allow for an interim control process in which the terms of the historic district plan are in effect. Emergency executive orders from both the governor and mayor extended the period to September 20.
“If the application were deferred, then we would have concerns about the interim control period,” Young said during the meeting. “So we would recommend that the board take action tonight.”
Now that the ordinance has made it past the Zoning Review Board, the Poncey-Highland Historic District faces the Atlanta City Council. If passed, it will be sent to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for approval.
A previous version of this article incorrectly reported the results of the election as 259 for, 99 against. The actual tally was 259 for, 88 against, with 11 invalid votes, either casted past the deadline, incomplete, not signed by a board mewmber, or cast by someone ineligible for voting.