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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Druid Hills residents to fight new bill pushed by Clifton Ridge developer

FIGHTING BACK: Druid Hills residents living off of Clifton Road have posted signs protesting against the proposed development
  • Max Blau
  • FIGHTING BACK: Druid Hills residents living off of Clifton Road have posted signs protesting against the proposed development
Residents in one Atlanta neighborhood say a new bill under the Gold Dome could upend Georgia's historic preservation code - all for a single developer's benefit.

Members of the Druid Hills Civic Association, mired in a longstanding fight against the developer of the proposed Clifton Ridge subdivision, say that HB 474 would enact statewide changes for a local issue.

The proposal by state Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, marks the third consecutive year that state lawmakers have introduced similar measures, including both standalone bills and other legislative amendments. If passed, Georgia's historic preservation codes would be amended as follows:

Nothing in this article shall be construed to prevent the ordinary maintenance or repair of any exterior architectural feature in or on a historic property, which maintenance or repair does not involve a material change in design, material, or outer appearance thereof, nor to prevent any owner of vacant property within a historic district from subdividing or developing such property in accordance with local zoning regulations, nor to prevent any property owner from making any use of his or her property not prohibited by other laws, ordinances, or regulations.

Community members say that Clifton Ridge developer Robert Buckler, who is also a Troutman Sanders partner, has pushed the bill through his close ties with state lawmakers. DHCA President Bruce MacGregor first learned about HB 474 on Tuesday and remains concerned about its potential impact.

"It's a very bad bill [that] would gut historic districts statewide," MacGregor tells CL. "We're concerned that this is the same thing."

MacGregor also adds that the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation has stood behind the DHCA's opposition in years past. Mark C. McDonald, the organization's CEO and president, says that it would be a shame to revise the state's longstanding codes.

"It is an effort to allow a single property owner in a solitary county in our state to subdivide a historically significant lot," McDonald tells CL. "There is no problem that exists across our state that demands this kind of statewide remedy."

The DHCA is still organizing to fight the bill, which could come in front of the Judiciary Committee on March 5. In addition, it recently filed a lawsuit against Buckler, its 11th case against the developer in the past decade.

"We have to [oppose it]," says MacGregor. "Historic Druid Hills is at stake and that destabilizes the community. The more important fact is that it sets a precedent."

In January, protesters temporarily halted a crew that started clearing land. Buckler claimed that he had the proper permits, and told the Virginia Highland-Druid Hills Patch that "they can protest until the cows come home."

CL reached out to Buckler and Willard for comment. We'll post an update if we hear back.

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