Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Follow the Outspoken Outing of Oakhurst Teardowns

XXX was not only writing about teardowns, he was blogging and tweeting them.

Mead Road teardown in Oakhurst.

I don't have to tell you it's controversial, teardowns that is. Activists across the spectrum exploit it. You can read this today in Salon "Preserving history, or the 1 percent?"

But most of us have gut reactions to them, we don't need any expert explanations. It's a place where envy and resentment spill into design. It's where outcomes are out for all to see and may be there for a 100 years.


When it bubbles up in your own community meetings, neighborhood harmony is rarely the result. When it spills into social media, we get controversy at light speed. It's more fun when the controversies are in somebody else's neighborhood.

Agree or disagree with XXX - you might do both - he's providing a service by discussing it in public. It's not winning him universal love but so be it.


I blog teardowns too but primarily on aesthetics: I want them to be good and I don't want the process to ruin something good. I keep the rest of my opinions to myself as I am a terrible activist.

My bona fides: We renovated our house in 1989. That was after a year of planning and then humiliation before our neighborhood zoning committee and before our NPU. It was awful.

Ironically my humiliating experience got me a spot on the zoning committee and ultimately leadership in our neighborhood association. I was a bit more sympathetic to the homeowners than to the committees.


In the end Bill Harrison did our renovation when he was design/build. He avoided zoning issues altogether and made our place blend in. Doing it "right" seemed effortless to Bill. Paraphrasing him: "It takes just as much money to do it wrong as to do it right."

Here is the before/after. We didn't tear it down and we harmonized with our neighbors. Though we didn't do a McMansion, we certainly up-sized and gentrified.

P1020801-2011-12-02-324 mead road Decatur teardown Oakhurst-WIP

Of course teardowns matter - for good or ill - in some neighborhoods more than others. But that's another blog.


If you are interested in the new urbanist take on these things, please follow my Twitter urbanist list. If you aren't on Twitter, you should be. You don't even have to Tweet got take advantage of it.

P.S. Oakhurst is home to the former Scottish Rite Hospital by Neel Reid and Hal Hentz, of the firm Hentz, Reid and Adler:

This is one of the great campuses in Atlanta, one of my favorite places.


  1. Mr. Kearns,

    BAsed on Mr. Rotenstein's descriptions, I'm sure he'd classify your place a McMansion.

    "Agree or disagree with David - you might do both - he's providing a service by discussing it in public. It's not winning him universal love but so be it." Hardly!

    He's providing no service with petulant, attacks on his neighbors and city officials. Fortunately it appears almost no one is listening. Less than 10 views of his Youtube video today!

    His postings are selective and underinformed, in my opinion. On his posting today with pictures of new construction - where are the run down appartments that once stood there?

  2. Thank you Terry for posting this. It's not just a historic preservation issue. It's about equity and equality, economics, and the environment -- in addition to preservation old buildings and landscapes. Since we moved to Oakhurst in Sept. 2011, there have been nearly a dozen teardowns within 1/2 mile of our house. The older homes are scraped away and carted off to landfills to make way for the construction of homes that are 2 and 3 times the size of what was torn down. They easily qualify as McMansions.

    Unfortunately, the people buying these new homes do so with blinders, unable or unwilling to recognize that an entire building was wasted to create their new home. The small houses, many still easily within rehab territory, could be cycled into starter homes or as places where folks can age in place affordably. Instead, they small homes are removed from the market and poorly designed and poorly constructed McMansions replace them.

    The new homes draw from a bloated architectural vocabulary of popular motifs. Fake Craftsman elements are glommed onto builders' homes like Mr. Potato Head pieces. Faux Prairies now stand out in a community where the Prairie style never manifested itself historically. One noted preservation architect described the faux Prairies as "motherships" that have landed in Decatur.

    Builders troll Oakhurst in trucks and they harass elderly African Americans trying to get them to sell their homes as teardowns. People displaced by urban renewal in Atlanta and Decatur describe the current private-sector teardown and McMansion spree as non-governmental urban renewal.

    Yesterday I interviewed a man who had lived in Decatur for 15 years. He moved because he didn't like the way the neighborhood was being ruined architecturally and socially by the opportunistic builders who are supported and encouraged by City leaders who care more about image than substance.

    Like the man I interviewed, we are moving out of Decatur for the same reasons. We've lived here 7 months and we don't want to see the neighborhood cannibalize itself and we don't want to pay taxes to a city that has such utter disregard for its most marginalized citizens and its irreplaceable cultural landscapes.

    Thank you, again, for writing about the Oakhurst teardowns.

  3. You'll either know what I mean or not:

    One: I've been to this meeting before, many times before, and I don't enjoy it. There is still heat left over Morningside's preservation pursuits from decades ago. I doubt it's over for all time.

    Two: Neighborhood activists eventually have to leave the hunt and usually they move.

    Three: The bad blood from these disputes is always there and it lasts. When it's your house, it's personal.

  4. i agree w/ David Rotenstein. The houses that replace the teardowns are boring & mediocre. The systemic "renewal" of these neighborhoods are boring & mediocre. African-Americans are priced out to make way for Urban Professionals. Why be so predatory ? Especially in this economic environment. So sad. The same parasitically uninspired gentrification that occurred in East Atlanta, Kirkwood et cetera is now going to beset Oakhurst.

  5. I have been watching David's actions over the past few months and I think that his "slash and burn" style has not won many to his side. It is certainly not the way one goes about getting things done in Decatur or in Oakhurst. Demonizing the very people you need to get on your side to accomplish your goals is not really the way to go about doing things.

    Teardowns, gentrification, and diversity are certainly legitimate issues that many in Oakhurst are concerned about. But there is clearly no consensus on what, if anything, to do about it.

    Many people who would be outraged about the teardown of a lovely turn of the century craftsman bungalow, aren't really that concerned about teardowns of late 1940's tract homes, 1950's ranches, or rundown and unsafe to live in apartment units. Many people might want to see some design guidelines for new construction, but don't want to see a moratorium on demolishing all existing homes and do not think a certificate of appropriateness should be required for their own home if they want to do a small addition, replace windows, or build a wheelchair ramp for an elderly parent or disabled child.

    It is also a fact that many of our African American neighbors are elderly and are either getting sick (and the need for additional care) or dying at a much more rapid pace than before. While we cherish their contributions to the neighborhood over the years, and want them to stay in their homes for as long as they wish, many of us do not want to restrict them or their families from selling their biggest asset for as much as they can get in the market to whomever they choose. Many need this money to pay for additional nursing care or to want to leave it for their families. Selling their home is a choice that they should be allowed to make without dealing with any social implications of doing so. While there are some younger African American families moving into the neighborhood, it has been a challenge getting them to come to Decatur because our property values tend to be higher and our houses smaller than what they can get elsewhere. It is a tough sell.

    Families looking for homes and space are not going to choose a $250,000 1,000 square foot tract home in need of considerable repair, when they can buy a much larger, relatively new home just a few miles away. Certainly, the creation of a historic district is not going to lead to lower cost for new constructions, renovations, and additions in Oakhurst to accommodate these buyers. If anything, it will raise the cost considerably, further driving away diversity.

    It is a fact that Oakhurst has become a much more desirable place to live over the years and it attracting much higher income residents than before. What, if anything, should be done to stop that?

    In the meantime, David Rotenstein has called our neighbors in new construction names, derided their homes as "McMansions" and compared them to cell towers, bullied city employees and officials, as well as contractors working on homes, called the City of Decatur itself nasty names and ridiculed its environmental efforts, has called the heroic volunteers that work on our MLK Service project (helping our low income and elderly neighbors maintain their homes)"pathetic" and "having white guilt." The list goes on and on and on. It is no wonder that he feels like he is being run out of town. And it seems like he is leaving no bridge un-burned. I hope he is happy about how many open scars he has left on our neighborhood. I guess it doesn't really matter to him because he will be leaving anyway.

    1. If they are not McMansions, what are they? Do you have an actual point beyond anonymously dumping on him? His blog posts seem to be supported by data from national groups and with interviews of other Oakhurst residents? Are they wrong or do they just share his agenda?

    2. Hello @SophieS_4820 from Atlanta Magazine. Not so pleased to meet you.

    3. Unfortunately we are getting him back in Silver Spring, Maryland!

  6. As I stated, what he speaks of is a legitimate issue that many are concerned about, but there is no consensus in Oakhurst in favor of his solution (prohibiting teardowns and the creation of a local historic district) and there are many questions about whether doing so would have a positive or negative impact on the neighborhood and its residents.

    David likes to present the issue as an all or nothing proposition - as in all teardowns are bad and all new construction is a McMansion. The issue is a lot more nuanced that that. Many Oakhurst homes (particularly the 1940's-'50's era homes) should probably be torn down. They were not very well constructed in the first place, have fallen into disrepair and I doubt they were meant to last for 60-70 years when they were cheaply built to provide housing in the post WWII boom. Yes, some of the new construction is out of character for the neighborhood, but some of it is quite well done. In fact, one of the same builders that has built a lot of the newer homes in Oakhurst, and who's homes David has called McMansions, has built similar homes in the neighboring MAK Historic District, where the design had to be approved by the preservation commission. Another local new construction builder and architect,whom David has ridiculed and abused on his blog, has won awards for the Decatur Historic Preservation Commission.

    Also, many who might support some new regulations and restrictions on teardowns and new construction, are turned off by David's tactics and many of the nasty things he has said about Decatur, its officials and employees, and about Oakhurst in general. You don't make many friends when you write a nasty expose on your neighbors houses and post them on your blog.

    That being said, David has written some very interesting articles about the history of Oakhurst and Beacon Hill and I do appreciate his efforts on that front.

  7. Since Terry published this post, another ranch house has been demolished and two small houses are being prepped for demolition. The sheer number of teardowns is wasting bandwidth on my blog so I opened up a new blog on Oakhurst's teardowns and mansionization:

    1. Seriously? ANOTHER blog? I'm starting to get confused as to which ones to read. Rethink Oakhurst? No. wait. Dateline:Decatur? This is a good strategy - When you can't effectively respond to well reasoned challenges to your underinformed selective nasty twittering - start another blog!

      By the way - the brick house with the yard swing: What do you know about the history of that house and what went on there? How come none of that is on your blog? (Just like the apartments that were replaced on Fayetteville and Gordon...) You don't put it on there because you know full well that even your preservationist wonks will have to agree that those homes are a vast improvement to the property by any measure.

      Uh - oh. Someone has challenged your points. Better go lockdown the teardown tracker.

  8. Seriously? ANOTHER blog? I'm starting to get confused as to which ones to read. Rethink Oakhurst? No. wait. Dateline:Decatur? This is a good strategy - When you can't effectively respond to well reasoned challenges to your underinformed selective nasty twittering - start another blog!

    By the way - the brick house with the yard swing: What do you know about the history of that house and what went on there? How come none of that is on your blog? (Just like the apartments that were replaced on Fayetteville and Gordon...) You don't put it on there because you know full well that even your preservationist wonks will have to agree that those homes are a vast improvement to the property by any measure.

    Uh - oh. Someone has challenged your points. Better go lockdown the teardown tracker.

    1. Tired of Oakhurst RantsApril 26, 2012 at 9:49 AM

      Are you like 12 years old with nothing better to do than masturbate on blogs and twitter?

    2. Well older than 12 but now I have something else to do besides what you mention!

      (excellent response to my questions by the way). Maybe I'll use that in court the next time opposing counsel challenges something from one of my reports.

  9. David still has not (and will not so far as I know) address the question about whether the prohibition of teardowns and the creation of a historic district would raise prices for homes in Oakhurst, thus further driving away the middle class, and creating a "gated community" effect. Would it not create a situation where the larger, new construction homes already built would become more scarce in the market, thus driving up the price of those homes, since you wouldn't be able to build new ones anymore? It is a pretty established fact that when you make a product less available in the marketplace, the price will go up. That is - unless Oakhurst becomes a less desirable community to live in as a result of these efforts - something I don't think anyone would want to do. I suggest that David take a ride around some "historically preserved" neighborhoods in and around central Atlanta that are suffering from disinvestment. It is not a pretty sight.

    But, of course, David and some other pro-historic district people in Oakhurst have already doubled the size of their small homes - not not being able to do it again would not be an issue for them. They just want other people to have to live in tiny houses, not themselves.

    1. I would be pleased to debate historic preservation and the economics of historic districts with anyone willing to take ownership of their positions, not someone hiding behind an anonymous screen name.

    2. I could make up a name and have a debate with you, but why is that really important? You clearly just want to "debate" with people who agree with you 100%. Go create a new blog. Anyone who doesn't agree with your idea of creating an exclusive gated community called Oakhurst is obviously a developer, real estate agent, anti-preservation, or just stupid and must live in a McMansion.

      And for people who do disagree with you and are either willing to publicly identify themselves, or you "out" them to the public, you then attempt to embarrass and humiliate them and smear their names through the mud. Ask Eric Rawlings, KC Boyce, Nick from Decatur Metro, or any of the myriad of city employees and city officials you have personally attacked. I'm sure they think you're a swell guy.

    3. Actually, I do more work for developers fending off spurious historic preservation claims than I do "pro-preservation" work. Being critical, and backing up the criticism, is part of civic discourse. Mr. Rawlings self-nominates his projects for awards and publicity and since no one other than a few folks over on Nick's bulletin board comment about how awkward and inappropriate for the setting his prairies are, I felt comfortable critcicizing them and defending why. KC Boyce, the same thing. He got a city award for doing something unsustainable and that detracts from the city's historic character. I only wrote what others have said privately out of fear of attacks like yours. As for the city officials, they get paid to be accountable to taxpayers, not simply heaped with self-serving backslapping celebratory attention.

  10. Oakhurstian, about those seemingly insignificant and 1940s homes "not built to last" that you and OakhurstVillain hate so much and want to see torn down? You might want to read this:

    1. David,

      As I understand it, you have moved out of Oakhurst. I am curious where you now reside.

  11. Bunch of fucking racist assholes.


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