LaFayette considers historic district as key element in revitalization

LaFayette considers historic district as key element in revitalization

March 14th, 2012 by Mike O'Neal in Local Regional News

Restoration projects, whether for a standalone building or an entire neighborhood, have to start somewhere.

That is why the LaFayette Historic Preservation Commission has proposed designating more than 25 acres - primarily the blocks between Fortune and Wardlaw streets on either side of U.S. Highway 27 - as a historic district.

"The plan is to seek designation as a district," said Catherine Edgemon, the city's Main Street and economic development director. "Adoption of design guidelines would follow at a later time."

Some whose businesses would be included within the district objected to the plan when it was made public last September. Major concerns were that architectural guidelines included in the plan were too restrictive and would place undue financial burdens on property owners.

Members of the preservation commission offered assurances that designation as a historic district would provide benefits, not burdens, to those both within and outside the historic district boundaries.

Guidelines, if adopted, would be just that; guidelines, not blueprints dictating the appearance of buildings. Nor would guidelines mandate making properties comply with current national building codes and meet requirements set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

What could happen, if the district is adopted by the City Council, is that businesses could qualify for grants and more favorable interest rates for improvement loans. Even more importantly, a renovated downtown could become a vibrant downtown.

"There is no downside," said Michael Lovelady, head of the Downtown Development Authority and owner of One-Eleven, a newly opened restaurant on LaFayette's downtown square. "Historic district designation provides economic advantages, alternate building codes, tax incentives, grants and better financing."

Lovelady said he had been involved in a similar project while living in Norcross and could offer examples of how that historic district is now the heart of that city.

"Our downtown was dead," he said. "Some renovations led to interest in downtown, restaurants came in and it became the community gathering place."

Lovelady said the same could happen in LaFayette.

"It would encourage new growth and revitalization," he said. "Historic districts offer advantages to the city, to the current property owners and have a stability that assures new development."

Simply drawing outlines on a map changes nothing unless the community as a whole - residents, business owners and elected officials - are willing to act. The Preservation Commission members want to save historic buildings and the overall feel of their city. Development Authority members want to inject new life into downtown and attract traffic from the highway that once ran through the heart of town but now bypasses the city.

Chris Davis, who joined the City Council in January, said he expects the expects the council to consider, and probably approve, designating part of downtown as a historic district in the next few months.

But Davis, a Realtor with ReMax in Fort Oglethorpe, said that designation is just one tool in the city's renewal and restoration.

"We don't just need a historic district," he said. "Most people want new businesses, new jobs and for the town to be cleaned up. Just doing a historic district is not going to make it happen; it needs to be a whole package."