ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The City Council has nixed a property owner’s request to demolish a home on Alpharetta’s Contributing Historic Buildings List to make way for new home construction.
At issue was the landowner’s property rights, which weighed against the interest of historic preservation.
The application, filed last June by Steve Sherrill of KBL Investments, sought to tear down the home at 133 Cumming Street, a block north of City Center, and divide the 1.7-acre property into two lots for sale for new home construction.
At the council’s Dec. 9 meeting, opponents of the request argued that the home, built around 1930, is an important element in the city’s effort to preserve its heritage. They offered a petition carrying signatures from about two dozen residents of like mind and a record of the families who lived in the dwelling over the years
The Gardner House was added to the city’s Contributing Historic Buildings List in 2017. That list identifies certain buildings that contribute to the city’s historic, cultural aesthetic or architectural or other heritage and are at least 75 years old. Owners of properties on the Contributing Historic Buildings List do not need to grant their permission to be included, but the city must provide them notice.
In recent years, the city has included provisions for saving structures on the historic list as part of any development project.
In 2016, Lehigh Homes got the city to rezone the property in the Weyhill subdivision on Cumming Street to build residential with higher density. The rezoning came with the condition that Lehigh not demolish the historic O.C. Shirley Paris house on the site at 122 Cumming Street.
A year later, The Providence Group agreed to restore the historic Ben Manning House on Cricket Lane at Academy Street as part of a rezoning that allowed higher-density housing. The home was restored for office use at a cost of about $300,000, according to city staff.
In his presentation to the City Council, Sherrill pointed out that restoration of the Gardner House would run somewhere between $750,000 and $1.2 million, based on estimates he obtained. To conform to standards of neighboring properties, he said, the house would need additional bedrooms and bathrooms and a garage.
“With this property, if I’m not able to get a demolition permit, I don’t have a choice,” Sherrill said. “I can’t sell it. My only option: I’ll give it to the city. You guys can have it. Move it off the lot and it’s yours.”
Attorney Donald Rolader, representing the applicant, said the council’s refusal to permit the demolition smacks of property rights violation.
“Where in the ordinance does it say that if your house is on the list, and you know it, that you’re to be treated differently and presumed to have an ulterior motive because the property was on the list?” Rolader said.
He also said the city was forcing the property owner into an untenable position.
“There is no ordinance that makes a property owner restore a piece of property just because the city would prefer it,” Rolader said.
The council also heard from several nearby residents who also favored demolition, saying they feared the house would remain in its present state and be allowed to deteriorate further.
“My biggest fear with this particular house is nobody is going to do anything with it,” said Mark Reed, who lives nearby. “It’s not going to make sense to anybody if Mr. Sherrill decides to sell the property. What is somebody else going to do with it?”
But an equal number spoke in favor of keeping the house standing.
“I think there’s tremendous value in having different houses and having these historic houses,” resident Claudia Lewis said.
The majority on council agreed, and in a 5-2 vote, denied the demolition request.
Councilman Donald Mitchell said he had no hesitation in denying the request.
“There’s a thousand properties and a thousand ranch homes in the city that you could’ve bought, but you chose not to,” Mitchell said. “You chose to ignore our heritage and our entire community and the things this community has valued through the years.”