The Poncey-Highland Master Plan
Poncey-Highland is at an epicenter of exciting growth and development in Intown Atlanta, which makes this a great place to call home. In anticipation of this growth, in 2009, our city councilperson encouraged our neighborhood to develop a master plan. Following a community-led development process, the Poncey-Highland Master Plan was adopted in 2010 and has served as a neighborhood-based vision for guiding growth.
Now, 10 years later, some of the recommendations in the master plan have been carried out, and that’s exciting. But we realize our master plan alone isn’t enough to help the neighborhood face today’s urban challenges, or those that are coming over the next 10 years and beyond.
So, we’re taking the next steps to ensure that Poncey-Highland retains its quality of life — character, walkability, scale, mix of housing types and people, active commercial corridors, green spaces — and that we take advantage of our full potential as a desirable place to live, work, and play in Intown Atlanta.
ABOUT THE PLAN
The master plan is a community-based vision for guiding growth and change in the neighborhood. It calls for doing so in a way that preserves and builds on neighborhood strengths, addresses challenges and weaknesses, and takes full advantage of Poncey-Highland’s potential.
Download the full document
(8.8 MB pdf)
Additional Resources and Reading
Frequently Asked Questions
Read through the Q&A below. Don’t see what you’re after? There’s a form at the end to submit your question. We’ll get it answered and share with you and others here!
What makes Poncey-Highland eligible to be a historic district?
Made up of parts of the original subdivisions of Copenhill, Ponce de Leon Heights, Linwood Park, and an industrial area along the Southern Railway, Poncey-Highland comprises a collection of residential and commercial areas that were established between the early 1900’s to late 1930’s, and an industrial corridor that was developed between the mid-1920’s and the mid-1950s. These original residential areas are representative of pre-World War I, planned, streetcar subdivisions for Atlanta’s middle-class residents and were platted and built by local developers including the Copenhill Land Co., Dr. George F. Payne and W.E. Worley, William Candler and B.D. Watkins, and others. Despite some recent infill construction and building alterations, Poncey-Highland retains a high degree of integrity that clearly conveys the speculative residential suburban growth in Atlanta during the early twentieth century that was originally facilitated by the City’s expanded streetcar transit network. Read more about the history of the neighborhood here.
WHEN IS A PROPERTY CONSIDERED “HISTORIC”?
For the purpose of the prosed Poncey-Highland Historic District, buildings in the residential subareas built up to 1940 and buildings in the mixed-use subareas built up to 1955 and still largely intact are considered historic/contributing. A property is determined to be historic/contributing when it adds to the associations, qualities, or characteristics of the district and was present during the period of significance for that district or possesses historic integrity reflecting its character at that time. Staff from the Urban Design Commission looked at the properties in Poncey-Highland and decided which ones were considered contributing and which ones weren’t.
What will happen to my property value?
Historic district designation often improves property values because it requires everyone to maintain the historic character of the neighborhood and gives some certainty that new construction or renovation will be respectful of the existing character of the community and its architecture. Historic districts encourage better design that is more cohesive, has more innovative use of materials, and great public appeal. Properties in historic districts tend to appreciate more and hold value better than identical properties not in a historic district. Of course, there’s no guarantee.
You said this isn’t a traditional Historic District. What did you mean?
Based on the working group recommendation, we asked the Urban Design Commission to work with the neighborhood to explore using the Historic Preservation Ordinance to create custom zoning regulations for Poncey-Highland. If adopted, the new district would be called the Poncey-Highland Historic District, but this would not be your mama’s historic district, or even your friend’s over in Inman Park. The city is open to exploring how to use the preservation ordinance in a new way to address our neighborhood’s specific concerns and to implement recommendations in the Poncey-Highland Master Plan in addition to preserving historic structures. This is one of the only ways we can have a (regulatory) say in the quality of design of new buildings built in our neighborhood, among other things, and the only way to prevent demolition of historic homes and buildings.
If adopted, this won’t be a traditional historic district. We (all of us!) get to create custom regulations for Poncey-Highland that are unlike those in any other historic district in Atlanta. We’ll use the historic district tool to manage all new development in the neighborhood in addition to preserving the history that makes Poncey-Highland special. Residents and others will help shape the regulations through community meetings in September, October, and November. If adopted, the proposed historic district will focus on preserving the front portion of historic houses while still allowing additions, including those that increase height. (As Beth says, “business in the front and party in the back.”) It won't tell you what color paint to use or have anything to do with the interior of your house or how you landscape your yard.
What are “interim Controls”?
If a property owner needs to do certain work to their property during the 180-day nomination and designation process, it may require review by the Office of Design Staff or the Urban Design Commission. During the nomination and designation process, properties within the proposed Poncey-Highland Historic District are protected by and regulated by “interim controls.” After the conclusion of the designation process, if a Poncey-Highland Historic District is created, the regulations developed through the public, community process would take effect. The interim controls are there just in case someone wants to do something during the 180-day period that a PHHD is being considered.
Aren’t these historic district regulations burdensome to homeowners?
Historic District regulations are intended to prevent the demolition or inappropriate alteration of historic resources, like a house or other building, and thus, the fabric of the historic district that gives properties their value. They offer predictability for residents and for those considering investing in the community. What we want to put in place will protect our fabric while allowing lots of flexibility. The Atlanta Urban Design Commission is willing to work with us to put together regulations that address the concerns and needs of our neighborhood. It will be unlike any other historic district in Atlanta. Regulations will be developed through a community process and approached with homeowners’ rights in mind, and with an eye to the future. So come to the meetings and help shape our neighborhood’s future.
The process of getting approval for permitting is actually LESS burdensome with a historic district in place. You don’t need to do anything at all to paint your house (any color!) or perform ordinary repairs and maintenance. Basically if you don’t need a building permit for it now, you probably wouldn’t once the historic district is in place. If you DO want to add on or alter your property, depending on what you want to do, the approval process could be as short as three days or up to two weeks. That’s compared to the three-month or longer process to get a variance through the usual NPU system, which involves multiple meetings. The reason for this is that if the neighborhood has decided what the regulations are in advance, and they’re are based on the existing physical conditions in the neighborhood, so there’s no need for a property owner to go to multiple meetings (neighborhood, NPU, BZA) to seek support. Approval is given either by UDC staff review or commission review (including a public hearing) based on the specific regulations of the district, which in this case would be the Poncey-Highland Historic District.
Why would a property be included in a historic district if it is not historic?
A historic district is an area that includes a collection of historic resources. Nearly all historic districts include both properties that are historically significant, based on the definition above, and properties that are not considered historic or contributing. The character of a historic district is affected by all of the properties within that area, so even the non-historic/non-contributing buildings are included in the designation.
Isn’t density good? Won’t this preventing the neighborhood from developing?
Creating a historic district doesn’t prevent new development and growth—it helps manage it so it enhances the neighborhood rather than detracts from what makes it special. In Poncey-Highland, areas where we definitely want more density include the proposed Beltline mixed-use subarea and the Ponce mixed-use subarea. We probably don’t want any drive-thru, one-story, one-use buildings in those areas. We probably do want buildings with an active use (retail, restaurant, etc.) at the bottom and housing on top. Community input will help shape the regulations so that new development that happens in Poncey-Highland will be in line with what folks in the neighborhood want. The proposed historic district would allow us all to have some say in how things that get developed in the neighborhood look, how buildings interact with the streetscape, and how new buildings interact with existing buildings and other new buildings.
What do I do if i need to do something to my property during the interim control period?
It depends what you want to do! The Urban Design Commission uses what are called Certificates of Appropriateness. The rules for what requires what type certificates of appropriateness are different for every historic district, so what applies to a property in Inman Park or Druid Hills, for example, might be different than what’s in place for Poncey-Highland.
Type I certificates of appropriateness ARE NOT REQUIRED during the interim control period for the proposed PHHD. So if you need to do ordinary repairs or maintenance, you can go ahead and do it. Generally anything that doesn’t require a building permit doesn’t require a certificate of appropriateness in this proposed district. Painting, replacing a broken window, fixing your roof, and other ordinary repairs and maintenance fall in this category.
Type II certificates of appropriateness are required for the following activities: all exterior alterations to existing structures where visible from a District right-of-way; dormer additions and gable additions which are no higher than the ridgeline of the principal structure and at least maintain the setbacks of the original structure; roof plane extension that at least maintain the side yard setbacks; rear additions which are no higher than the ridgeline of the principal structure and at least maintain the side yard setbacks of the principal structure, new accessory structures, etc. IF the proposed activity meets District guidelines, you can get usually get approval within 3 days of application. NOTE: This is much faster than going through the typical City of Atlanta variance process required before interim controls where in place.
Type III certificates of appropriates are required for: all new principal structures; additions to the side of a principal structure, full second-story additions, and all other additions; all additions or alterations to multifamily, commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings with the exception of ordinary repair and maintenance; revisions to previously approved plans that result in an increase in the floor area ratio, lot coverage, or height; or an expansion of the building footprint. In the PHHD interim controls, Type III certificates require full Commission review and are usually issued within two weeks.
Type IV certificates of appropriateness are required for: full demolition or moving of any historic/contributing principal building. A partial demolition only requires a Type IV certificate if it will result in the loss of significant architecture features that destroys the building’s historic interpretability or importance to the district. Otherwise a partial demolition would fall into the Type III category.
The first step is to contact the Atlanta Urban Design Commission (AUDC) at 404-330-6145. The AUDC staff will review the proposed plans and do one of the following:
A. Issue a Certificate of Appropriateness
B. Deny the plan for not complying with the regulations
C. Send the plan to the Commission for further review
After AUDC issues a Certificate of Appropriateness the home/property owner can apply for the required or necessary permits.
What are the existing (before the interim controls) regulations for our neighborhood?
It depends how the property is zoned.
Residental R-4 (mostly detached single-family buildings in the area marked subarea 1 on the proposed PHHD map): https://library.municode.com/ga/atlanta/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIIICOORANDECO_PT16ZO_CH6SIMIREDIRE
Residential R-5 (mostly detached single- and two-family homes in the area marked subarea 2 on the proposed PHHD map): https://library.municode.com/ga/atlanta/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIIICOORANDECO_PT16ZO_CH7TMIREDIRE
Other zoning categories (including commercial regulations) and general regulations: https://library.municode.com/ga/atlanta/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIIICOORANDECO_PT16ZO
Bonaventure-Somerset Historic District: https://library.municode.com/ga/atlanta/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIIICOORANDECO_PT16ZO_CH20UBOMEHIDI
how big could a new house be without a historic district regulation?
It depends what on the underlying zoning for the property. On a lot zoned R-4, a house could be 35 feet high ( a little over 3 stories) and total lot coverage, including the all structures, driveway, and other non-permeable surface can be up to 50 percent without a variance. For lots zoned R-5 the lot coverage allowed increases to 55 percent. There are also regulations about floor area ratio (FAR). For details see the links above. Based on the most recent City of Atlanta zoning update, property owners do NOT need a variance to build within the existing side setbacks and footprint of the house. Property owners DO need a variance if they want to build outside of existing setbacks or the foot print of the house.
A variance application (outside of a historic district) goes through the NPU process, which typically takes 2- to 3-months and includes PHNA land use, PHNA general meeting, NPU-N meeting, and a BZA meeting before the variance is approved. Following that process, a building permit can be issued.
Can a property owner make changes to a historic property once it is part of a historic district?
Yes. In the proposed Poncey-Highland Historic District, property owners would be able to add on to historic buildings based on the customized regulations the neighborhood develops together. Additionally, it isn’t necessary to have UDC approval for any interior alterations, or for normal repairs and maintenance that don’t affect the exterior appearance of the house (such as repainting or re-roofing with the same material). The goal is to keep as much of the historic fabric as feasible, and when alterations are necessary or desired, ensure that the underlying historic character of the building isn’t lost in the process.
Will a property owner be required to restore his or her property?
No. Historic district designation does not require property owners to restore any building to the way it looked in the past. The regulation of work is not retroactive. The proposed Poncey-Highland Historic District won’t affect your property at all unless you want alter or add to it in the future.
Will Paint color be regulated?
No. The main focus is on the preservation of the building. In this proposed district, ordinary repair and maintenance is not reviewed at all.
Do you have to have an architect review plans for any proposed work?
Larger, more complex projects will require an architect’s drawings to meet City of Atlanta Bureau of Buildings standards, but simpler drawings that are to scale and accurate are sufficient for smaller projects.
Will interior work require review?
No. The one exception to this is the installation of dropped ceilings or the insertion of new floors IF they could be seen from the outside of the building.
Would the proposed district restrict the sale of property?
Local districts don’t restrict the sale of property, require improvements or restoration of property, require approval of interior changes or alterations, prevent new construction, or require approval for ordinary repairs and maintenance.
What is the difference between a City of Atlanta historic district designation and a listing on the National Register of Historic Places?
A big difference is that listing on the NRHP is honorific and doesn’t prevent alterations or demolition of structures, though it may entitle owners to tax benefits. Another difference is that City of Atlanta historic districts are administered by the Atlanta Urban Design Commission while the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is recognized by the U.S. Department of the Interior and in Georgia is administered by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Office.
Does section 3.2 of the PH bylaws mean that local businesses, any property owners who live [outside of the neighborhood boundaries], and all commercial property owners are not permitted to vote on the prosed poncey-highland historic district?
The PHNA bylaws DO restrict voting on land use/zoning issues (including the proposed PH Historic District) moving through the NPU process to Poncey-Highland residents (category 1 members). However, all PHNA members can vote on all general issues brought before the neighborhood association for vote, and everyone is encouraged to participate in discussions.
Intown neighborhoods have different approaches to voting on land use issues. See bylaws for nearby neighborhood/civic associations to see how PHNA compares: Candler Park, Virginia Highland, Lake Claire, Inman Park, Druid Hills.
Relevant text from the PHNA bylaws:
3.2 Categories of Members. There shall be four categories of membership: • Category 1: An individual residing within the boundaries as described in Section 2.5 (“Residents”); • Category 2: An individual who is not a Resident, but who owns residential property within the boundaries as described in Section 2.5; • Category 3: A business operating within the boundaries described in Section 2.5. The business must appoint a representative, for example the business’ manager, to attend meetings and to vote on behalf of the business. • Category 4: Owners of commercial property within the boundaries described in Section 2.5.
6.1 Voting Privileges. Any person who is a current Category 1 member of the Association is eligible to vote on all issues brought before the association. Any person who is a current Category 2, 3, or 4 member is eligible to vote on all issues brought before the association except zoning related issues. A membership allows one vote. All votes must be made by each member in person or by absentee ballot. Absentee voting is permitted, but must be in writing and given to any member of the Board of Directors prior to the meeting at which the vote will be taken
6.2 Voting. All issues to be voted on, including the election of Officers and at-large members of the Board of Directors, but excepting proposed amendments to the by-laws and zoning related issues, must pass by a simple majority of the members eligible to vote and present at the membership meeting during which the vote is being taken as well as those eligible members who have cast an absentee vote. If the number of non-Category 1 members present equals or exceeds the number of Category 1 members present, voting on issues other than zoning related issues will be deferred.
6.3 Voting on Zoning Related Issues. Only Category 1 members are eligible to vote on zoning related issues. These must pass by a simple majority of Category 1 members eligible to vote and present at the membership meeting during which the vote is being taken as well as those eligible category 1 members who have cast an absentee vote.
6.4 Voting on Amendments to the By-Laws. Proposed amendments to the by-laws must be approved by 2/3 of all members eligible to vote and present at the membership meeting during which the vote is being taken as well as those eligible members who have cast an absentee vote or given their proxy.