Loss of historic home worries Athens neighborhood

Monday, Dec. 26, 2011 9:07 AM
Last updated 9:13 AM
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ATHENS, Ga. - A 180-year-old mansion in Athens’ Cobbham neighborhood is up for sale, and neighbors are worried about what might be built there.

Camak House, currently the home of Lewis, Frierson & Grayson LLP, is located at the corner of Meigs and Finley streets. The 180 year old mansion is currently for sale.   AJ Reynolds/ Morris News Service
AJ Reynolds/ Morris News Service
Camak House, currently the home of Lewis, Frierson & Grayson LLP, is located at the corner of Meigs and Finley streets. The 180 year old mansion is currently for sale.

The law firm Winburn Lewis & Barrow recently put the Camak House and its 2.3-acre grounds on the market. Sealed bids are due May 1.

The Meigs Street building is zoned commercial-downtown and could be developed as dense retail, office, residential or a mix.

The property officially is a historic landmark but isn’t within a local historic district, where construction and demolition are strictly regulated.

Other protections are in place, though.

The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation owns covenants that give it the power to approve any changes to the house or development on the property, and Mark McDonald, the nonprofit’s executive director, said he is “prepared to enforce them.”

“We hope the buyer would have as much respect for the property as the present owners,” real estate agent Wilson Elder said. “I think that will happen. With the restrictions that are on it, I think the house is safe. The development of the balance of the property would secure the future of the house ... and be an asset to the city.”

Neighbors became alarmed when they saw a conceptual drawing on a marketing website that showed six 10-story apartment buildings on the property.

“They’re concerned it could be sold and torn down and become some kind of high-rise development,” said Athens-Clarke Commissioner Jared Bailey, who represents Cobbham.

That concept was meant only to show what the property’s zoning allows, Elder said. The covenant will prevent any inappropriate development, and the buyer could very well turn the house back into a residence, he said.

Blair Dorminey, a Cobbham resident and former Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation board member, said he would prefer to see the house untouched and was reassured to hear about the convenant.

“It’s one of the very few remaining (properties) with the house and the property both intact,” Dorminey said. “That’s very important.”

Other surviving houses that old have been moved or their lots were subdivided, he said.

The federal-style, 7,800-square-foot house was built in 1833 by James Camak, a University of Georgia professor, magazine editor, surveyor, railroad investor and textile mill owner.

In 1949, the Camaks sold the house to a local Masons chapter, which sold it to a Coca-Cola bottling plant next door in 1979. The Georgia Trust bought the house for $40,000 in 1992, then flipped it months later to future congressman John Barrow’s law firm for $75,000 while retaining the covenants.

The property now is worth $1.7 million, according to tax records.


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