40 Watt

The proposed Hot Corner Historic District would include 40 Watt Club, Morton Theatre and other buildings on the west side of downtown.

With the deadline set for June 2020, the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission will be considering and voting on a new local historic district in west downtown.

The proposed Downtown Hot Corner district would cover several blocks of downtown between Lumpkin Street on the east, Pulaski Street on the west, East Dougherty Street on the north and East Broad Street on the south. A local historic district already protects the east side of downtown.

Hot Corner Map

In the next few weeks, the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department will schedule community information sessions about the proposed district. The Mayor and Commission will vote on the proposal before June.

The National Register of Historic Places already includes most of downtown, including the western side. Inclusion in the National Register allows for more consideration of an area’s historic importance for federally-linked construction and renovation projects, but it places no restrictions on changes to a structure by a non-federal owner or through a non-federally-funded project. This is where a local historic district comes into play.

A local historic district require more oversight of less-obvious aesthetic changes to a structure, such as adding a window, according to the current local district guidelines. It would require property owners to complete a multi-step approval process to change the facades of their buildings, so as to comply with design guidelines set by the local government.

The 97-page design guidelines for the current local historic district — which was established in 2006 — outline the architectural “design character” of downtown Athens. The guidelines are used by the ACC Historic Preservation Commission and ACC Planning Department staff to determine whether changes to the buildings fit the district’s “design character.”

These are some of the focuses of the 2006 guidelines, highlighting the extent to which a historic district maintains a neighborhood, as well as the rules governing the current historic district in east downtown. The full guidelines can be read here.

Rehabilitation of historic properties

The guidelines state that minimizing changes to the “fabric of historic buildings” is the principle of preservation. The guidelines propose three questions to consider when owners are seeking to reconstruct buildings: What is the degree of integrity of the property? What is the significance of the property? What is the context of the property?

As every property differs slightly, the guidelines state there is no “hard-and-fast” rule governing all reconstruction, but a “deliberate, thoughtful process” must be used regarding the building’s history and “character defining features” when an owner is considering a renovation.

Design guidelines for new construction

The guidelines also show examples of how the historic district would influence new construction. The focus of the current district is maintaining the scale and horizontal alignment of buildings, encouraging windows to be roughly the same height and maintaining a building scale of two to four stories.

General design guidelines

Generally, the guidelines give suggestions on smaller aesthetic choices, such as encouraging awnings and canopies, how to light the front of a building and how to minimize the visual impact of mechanical equipment. This section also encourages maintenance of properties, and states that demolition should only be a last resort.