Area might escape rules

Staff

Landlords in a blighted corner of Olde Town might be off the hook on bringing their buildings up to new historic preservation standards.

Historic neighborhood covenants are about to be imposed in Olde Town, but the rows of shotgun homes along Watkins and Walker streets - many of which appear burned out and neglected - likely won't be subject to the new standards.

The Augusta Commission could approve today Olde Town's local historic designation ordinance, which will give a preservationist review board oversight on building alterations in the residential neighborhood near downtown Augusta.

Two weeks ago, however, the city commission moved to downsize what originally was proposed as a 300-acre district from the Savannah River levee to the end of Magnolia Cemetery, according to George Patty, the executive director of the Historic Preservation Commission.

In a surprise move, the commission cut out the area south of Telfair Street that includes the cemetery and clusters of deteriorating homes.

Commissioner J.R. Hatney said he made the motion to remove the streets because he feared that poor residents could not afford to comply with covenants that could make additions and demolitions more difficult and also dictate the types of materials used for repairs. Mr. Hatney said some of the same issues arose in the Bethlehem historic district, where neighborhood covenants were said to require cost-prohibitive repairs and led many property owners to leave their buildings dilapidated.

"I just don't want to see this part of town tied down like it did in Bethlehem," he said.

Landlords - many of whom don't live in the neighborhood - are far more likely to benefit from the area's exclusion from the preservation ordinance than poor homeowners.

According to city tax records, about 79 percent of the property in the area to be cut out of the historic district is not owner-occupied.

To make alterations, property owners will have to obtain approval from the Historic Preservation Commission and abide by a set of guidelines geared toward the preservation of historic architecture.

Rob Moon, an Olde Town resident and chairman of the preservation commission, said the exclusion is unfortunate. But he said the board wouldn't fight it and hopes to get the corridor placed in the historic district later.

There is probably little preservationists could do now, anyway.

Because the ordinance has already been given a pass on the first of two reads, its approval is near certain, Mr. Patty said.

Reach Justin Boron at (706) 823-3215 or justin.boron@augustachronicle.com.