Local Residents Initiate Historic District Exploration for Two VaHi Subdivisions

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DSC_0037A group of residents who live in two historic subdivisions of Virginia-Highland have reached out to fellow residents/owners on the topic of preserving the historic character of the area near the intersection of Virginia and North Highland Avenues. Those who grew up here in the 30s and 40s called the area near the intersection of our two primary streets “Highland and Virginia,” which seems to be a useful overall tag for reference purposes.

The two specific historic subdivisions considered by this group’s efforts are Adair Park (established in 1914) and the F.A. Ames Property/Virginia Highlands (1922). They are made up of just over 300 homes; you can see both on the boundary map graphic below. Historic Districts are always based on the historic development of the neighborhood and that is why these historic subdivisions have been chosen. If residents on adjacent streets or across the street from boundaries are interested in inclusion, this can certainly be considered. The business properties along N. Highland and Virginia in these areas are not included; since 2009 they have had their own commercial-based overlay zoning.

The efforts and studies by previous local historic committees – which gathered many specific plat maps and other materials from all of Virginia-Highland and studied the application process and requirements – provided a useful starting point for this discussion. Our first review suggests that a form of historic designation called ‘Historic District Overlay Zoning’ is the specific one that would be most appropriate here. It is the least restrictive form of regulated historic district, yet still offers some significant protection. Like many topics, what we all need to know is in the details, and we look forward to sharing and studying all those with other owners and residents.

We’re seeking additional committee members who live in the area. If the residents and owners wish to see this move forward, it will require the support of the Virginia-Highland Civic Association, the City of Atlanta’s Urban Design Commission and our council members. Professional consulting groups often help neighborhoods prepare the formal submissions that the process above requires and Market + Main is assisting in that respect. Market + Main led the commercial zoning overlay project mentioned earlier and has done many studies for VHCA.

We have planned a series of meetings so all property owners and residents within the designated boundaries can learn about this concept and its advantages and limits.  Our reactions are paramount in this process; the information sessions are specifically intended to give us the ability to absorb and reflect upon what such an approach would – and would not – accomplish and to hear one another’s ideas.

If at the end of our sessions and discussions we learn that property owners and residents support such an effort, historic district guidelines – written with resident and owner input in mind – can be drafted and submitted to the Urban Design Commission for review. Their review consists of a separate process in which they examine the history of the area’s homes, the submitted designation report, and the draft regulations.

Should that review produce a positive recommendation; the next step will be seeking approval through the legislative process. Market + Main can help represent the neighborhood during those stages.

Should this review process bear out a lack of support, the effort would be stopped once that conclusion is reached.

We’ve included a schedule of meetings below. We want to make sure that all property owners and residents have a chance to learn and be heard so we are breaking the area up by street for smaller, more interactive meetings. Each meeting will cover the same material so you only need to attend one meeting. If the date assigned to you does not work with your schedule, feel free to join in on another date below or come on the make-up date of Dec. 11. You may attend multiple meetings if you wish.

All meetings will be held at 7 PM at The Church of Our Saviour, opposite the Fire Station at the corner of Los Angeles and N. Highland. Check the website before attending in case of changes to date and place. 

Thursday, Oct. 17 – Attendees from N. Virginia Ave and Stillwood Dr. – Garrison Hall

Monday, Oct. 28 – Attendees from Lanier Blvd and Los Angeles Ave. – Pettway Hall

Thursday, Nov. 7 – Attendees from Adair Ave., Todd Rd., and Rupley Dr. – Garrison Hall

Thursday, Dec. 5 – Attendees from Virginia Ave. and Hudson Dr. (excluding commercial properties in NC) – Garrison Hall

Wednesday, Dec. 11 – Attendees from North Highland Ave. (excluding commercial  properties in NC),  Kentucky Ave., Rosewood Dr., and a make-up session for all streets – Garrison Hall

See link below to map of proposed historic designation area – on some streets only one side of the street is being considered.

Additional meetings and communications will be needed to follow up on comments and concerns and to review draft regulations should the residents/owners support the effort. Look for further announcements.

While the meetings listed above will be open to the public, their primary purpose is to educate and hear from property owners and residents of the area.  With that in mind, we’ll ask everyone to sign in and list the property they own or rent in the area, or provide their address and interest in the process if they live outside the area. Residents and owners will be given first priority for discussion purposes.

A number of property owners and residents have some experience with these ideas, and most of them agree on this truism:  There are a lot of potential advantages and disadvantages in this (and every other land-use) plan. We look forward to discussing these advantages and disadvantages thoroughly; all relevant topics are on the table. In the interest of efficiency, there are a few things we really hope not to spend time on – because they are not on the table. (They are not features that would be regulated in this type of historic district.)

  1. No paint colors are mentioned in any way.  We can still go nuts; under this overlay, bright purple exteriors with yellow stripes will be as legal (completely) and as desirable (possibly less than completely) as they are now.
  2. Renovations done inside a house are not addressed at all anywhere in a Historic Overlay District.
  3. The contemplated regulations apply to work that is visible from the street. The UDC is currently reviewing the definition of “visible from the street” as a neighborhood’s topography and where a person is standing greatly influence what is visible from the street. More to come on this topic. But the bottom line is that work on the back of a house and out of sight is not regulated beyond the regulations provided by the current city ordinances.
  4. Approval of work to be done in a historic district does not necessarily take longer than the current process. All projects would be evaluated by the UDC – some can be approved by the staff; others go before the commission for review and approval.  All other city review processes are still followed.

And there is the obvious reality that all work done in this city has to meet all other city ordinances and building standards, as it would have to in any case.

We’re really hoping not to spend any time on these latter points. Instead we really look forward to a robust evaluation of all the advantages and factual limitations offered by historic designation.


These meetings are being attended by your friends and neighbors. It is required that we be respectful, observant, and willing to listen to what each other has to say. Cordiality and congeniality are essential parts of a productive process, and they make for improved outcomes, no matter what the specific outcomes are.

See you Thursday or at a subsequent meeting.

To get involved or for more information, email the committee at info@HighlandandVirginia.org. A website is reserved and under construction: www.highlandandvirginia.org.

Additional Resources

Click here to view a street map of the proposed historic district.

Click here to view a historic map of Adair Park.

Click here to view a historic map of F.A. Ames Property/Virginia-Highland.

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