A local zoning board will soon hear the case of Buckhead condominium owners who recently applied for a permit to tear down what they say is an unsafe eyesore that will cost too much to repair.
But the zoning board chair has reservations about the case.
The problem? What the neighbors call an unsafe eyesore is a piece of Buckhead history.
The city of Atlanta turned down the permit to tear down the Randolph-Lucas House on Peachtree Road, prompting an appeal that will be reviewed by the Neighborhood Planning Unit B zoning committee on June 26.
Bill Murray, chairman of the zoning committee, said he feels strongly about preserving history and thinks Atlanta has too few historic sites.
“There needs to be some other solutions,” Murray said. “I think there are other possibilities if there’s a financial drain on them to maintain it.”
The Randolph-Lucas House, a mansion located at 2494 Peachtree Road, is part of the Peachtree Heights Park District, a nationally recognized historic site. Hollins Nichols Randolph, a prominent Atlanta attorney, built the red brick residence in 1924. The 2500 Peachtree Condominiums Association, the current owner of the house, hired an engineering firm who found the house isn’t structurally sound.
Hakim Hilliard, an attorney for the condo association, said the house was turned over to his clients in poor condition.
“The situation they found was a structure designated as a commercial building, not attached to its foundation with no certificate of occupancy, so they couldn’t use it,” Hilliard said.
According to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission, the house represents a time when the increasing popularity of the automobile made it possible for the “civic elite” to live farther away from the city.
None were more civic and elite than Randolph, who was the great, great grandson of Thomas Jefferson. Randolph represented numerous high-profile businesses and was a delegate to several Democratic national conventions.
Margaret Lucas purchased the house in 1935, the Urban Design Commission says. Her husband, Arthur, owned several local theaters. Margaret Lucas stayed there until she passed away in 1987, according to Erica Danylchak, executive director of the Buckhead Heritage Society.
When the original developer built the condominiums in 1997, one of the stipulations of the permit was moving the house 35 feet forward from its foundation to make way for the project, Danylchak said.
Danylchak said the plan was to renovate it as a guest house for residents, but after the developer finished the project the condo market tanked and the developer only sold 50 percent of the units. The bank foreclosed on the property, she said.
Fast forward to 2012 and the home has sat virtually untouched since the development of the condos.
Murray said he is concerned that the condo association shirked its responsibilities to care for the property. He said the ownership changing hands since 1997 is irrelevant in this case.
“Whenever we do something, the conditions go with the property for the life of the property,” Murray said. “Our condition has been that’s the obligation of the HOA. If it is in disrepair because you haven’t maintained it, that shouldn’t give you the right to have a demolition permit and tear it down.”
Hilliard said a better question for the NPU and other preservationists to ask is why the building wasn’t turned over in decent shape.
“The city issued a temporary certificate of occupancy when they moved it, which was good for 30 days. It expired 11 or 12 years ago,” Hilliard said. “All that happened before my clients had the condo turned over to them.”
Attempts to reach a member of the HOA were unsuccessful.
Recent articles about the brewing battle have raised the home’s profile. Danylchak said her phone rings nonstop. Residents are motivated.
She thinks the condo association and preservationists can find a solution.
“We at Buckhead Heritage are interested in having a creative dialogue about what can happen to it,” Danylchak said. “ … The interested parties need to come together and have a dialogue about how the buildings can be used.”