25 Apr 2007 The Polka Dotted House Gambit
Local preservation officials in a “planned community” outside Atlanta reject homeowner’s renovation plan that would add a front stoop to his house.
The Squeaky Wheel, or in this Case, the Polka Dotted House, Gets the Grease
Avondale Estates, a suburb of Atlanta, is recognized as one of America’s first planned communities. City officials are known to enforce strict guidelines regarding home improvements.
Some argue that the officials with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, which is the agency that oversees and approves renovations, use government power to impose their personal ideas of good taste, rather than historical accuracy, on the community.
When resident Stan Pike got caught up in a related regulatory nightmare, he found an inventive way to “brush aside” the problem.
Pike owns a second house in Avondale Estates that he was renovating to resell. The house has a previously-built addition with rounded corners, and an architect suggested that Pike build a matching rounded front stoop to balance out the house. The addition had been built in the 1960s with rounded edges because city officials told the previous owner that squared corners would not leave enough lawn between the house and the street. Nonetheless, the Historic Preservation Commission rejected Pike’s request because a Commission consultant judged the project as “less appropriate” for the neighborhood.
Two days after the ruling, Avondale Estates residents discovered that Pike had repainted the house lime green with purple polka dots. He further threatened to plant flowers in old toilets and scatter them around the yard in protest of the Historic Planning Commission’s rejection of his project. In less than a month, Mayor John Lawson and the City Commission overruled the Historic Preservation Commission, with Lawson saying Pike’s plan would not be “substantially detrimental” to the home’s appearance. Afterward, Pike said he would repaint the house.
Randall Carlson, a builder who has done work in Avondale Estates, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the city’s preservation officials should have their power curtailed: “Most people are not going to do anything that would detract from the value of their home. I think the [commission] should be a last resort, only if people do something way out of line.”
As a result of years of complaints, city officials are entertaining changes to allow more flexibility for home alterations and additions. One proposed change would shrink the historical district, while a second one would establish four categories of homes. The strictest guidelines would apply only to homes with the most historical significance.
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (May 8, 2003; May 28, 2003; October 14, 2004)
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