MDJ editor Joe Kirby's column on Sunday about height limits and proposed changes to the city's demolition permitting process was a great and fair article.
There was a time when three story-buildings, such as the Cole Hotel that Philip Goldstein mentioned in Kirby's column, did exist on the south part of the Square. The Cole Hotel, which was burned by Sherman in 1864, was the replacement for the Marietta Hotel, which was also burned due to the lack of proper fire equipment in 1853. The Marietta Hotel stood on the former location of George's Winter's tavern as Marietta became more dignified in the 1840s.
As to the hotels being three stories, they were such on the south Square for some 30 years out of 170 years. Yes, for 140 plus, the predominant height has been only two stories. In reading of our history, drugs stores, tanneries, hardware stores, retail etc., were on the first floor and the professionals were "above" these merchants on the second floor. The true historical precedent is two stories, not three. Yes, the Masonic Lodge and the Kennesaw House were three, but these were there when Marietta was a resort home and a stop for the W&A railroad.
The north part of the Square was also characterized by two stories. The Howard House was a hotel which was the stopping place for the "State Cars" on the W&A in Marietta, but it was only two stories and later became Schillings Hardware. The Merchants and Farmers Bank building, a/k/a the Cuthbertson Building, was only a two-story building.
The Strand Theatre, which is taller, was built on the site of a burned building, but was not built until the 1930s. Just as the Sugar Cakes building has survived and is extremely attractive across Root Street from the Merchants & Farmers Bank Building, the continued height likeness to the Root Street drug store built by William Root is part of the nature of the Square and consistent with our history. It should be noted that Root married Hannah R. Simpson, who is a relative of the Simpson who served as a district attorney and president of the Merchants & Farmers Bank.
The referred-to Civil War-era "depiction" is just that, not an actual picture. Further, references to the height of the courthouse are mistaken from a historical perspective. The 1853 Court House, which was our third courthouse, was a two-store building that was 80 feetby 60 feet at Washington Street and the Square on the east side of the Square.
In reviewing the "height" history of the Square, two stories reflect the historical norm and capture the historic perspective of a Southern historic economic center.
This is especially true in that our Square as an historical attraction has evolved into restaurants and retailers for the most part, not hotels. The hotels have moved towards Highway 41 and Interstate 75 and the City Council built a hotel and Conference Center down Powder Springs Road at the Georgia Military Institute site. The Kennesaw House is now a museum and Shillings is now a restaurant. Without the hotel culture, the two-story height seems the most appropriate to consider preserving the historic ambience.
I DISAGREE that having an equitable time to execute a permit is a "bad wish." Only a developer who wishes and sees the need to demolish icons such as the Strand and the Merchants & Farmers Bank Building will actually demolish such. This is an idea of forethought and intent. The six months limitation is purely a regulation that needs to be consistent and not favor one area over the other.
In our City Code, a demolition permit has a "life" of six months except for the Square which is three years, and it is being considered if this is fair and consistent. In fact, the Marietta staff has pointed out in other nearby governments that for historic areas, the time limit is generally a year and not three years. There has been only one developer seek a demolition permit over the last 15 years, so this is not a general problem.
We have lost many buildings over the years: the Keith and Waterman Street schools, the old Doctors Hospital, the old Courthouse, and the entire eastern portion of the Square from Lemon Street to Roswell Street. Yes, even my Atlanta Street First Methodist Church's sanctuary was demolished when the church moved to Husk and Whitlock. As these treasures are gone forever, it is being presented that the City Council should confirm a demolition permit when authorized by a non-elected body. This is one area that caution should be used and the council should not delegate such an important task completely.
I am delighted at this debate and appreciate all who have expressed their views. Just as the city did in 1845, we need to protect our heritage and balance and respect neighbors vs. "a man's horse lot is his own." The city in a normal course of zoning can regulate heights for a legitimate purpose just as it does for all other criteria from residential density to commercial zoning. Zoning is an obligation of a local government. In this case, protecting the historical integrity of the Square is a legitimate, ordinary and necessary purpose. In consideration of the special historical protection, the Square area is offered special concessions to make it viable from the support of the Downtown Marietta Development Authority to zoning concessions, maintenance of the Square, free parking with no parking requirements required for new building permits.
The city protects and enhances the Square more so than any other area. Further, the city directs hotel/motel tax monies to the Square and fully supports concerts on the Square, July Fourth parades, Veterans' Day parade, farmers markets, cotton days, and all the other promotions that make the Square great. The city works with the Convention Bureau, the DMDA and our outstanding merchants and property owners to make the Square a viable area. Our Square with its emphasis on its historical nature is the best downtown in the entire state of Georgia where we have storefronts that actually have vibrant businesses behind them.
Whenever I talk to anyone around the state, the Square and its beautiful and lively appearance is what they mention and they reflect upon their visit to our Square and how much they enjoyed it. I cannot imagine the Taste of Marietta, the Friday night concert, the start of a road race being conducted in the shadows of large and towering buildings. If we lose the historic ambiance, we will lose the attraction of the Square. With our being blessed with the Museum of History, the Marietta Museum of History, Theatre in the Square, the Strand, the Gone with the Wind Museum, it is the historical nature of the Square which supports and makes these attractions the best. Imagine, these attractions based in our historic Square among towering buildings.
I admire and appreciate those who have invested in and committed to the Square, but just as George Bailey said to Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life," ... "This rabble you're talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath or to respect their history?" In other words, even though there are people such as myself who do not own property on the Square, We, the common people, cherish the Square and support the Square and without us there would be no Square, merchants or restaurants.
I can speak first hand as a "counterfeit OM" ("Old Marietta") as my family did not come until the 1930s: We have gone to schools near the Square, been churched on or near the Square, traded with the merchants on the Square, been medically treated and born in the Doctor's Hospital, owned businesses, had haircuts, banked and worked on the Square, and been entertained on the Square.
As mayor, I will without reservation not only support the Square, but seek the preservation of her history, which is the heart and soul of our existence. The Square can be economically viable and historically viable at the same time and we all need to work together to balance both.
From the evidence of the favorable and different treatment of the square in our City code, our investment in the Square including the hotel/motel tax and auto rental tax, and the conference center/hotel depend on our historical brand of the Square. Historic preservation is an integral part of our city and it enhances the merchants and owners around the Square despite limiting their desired height aspirations. This is not a taking of property value, but an addition to its value and stability.
In closing, I respect the property right view and a differencing vision and hopefully the special nature of the historic Square can serve us all. And thanks to Joe Kirby for printing Mr. Goldstein's point of view as the sharing of ideas and concepts can only aid in the proper approach.
Steve "Thunder" Tumlin, an attorney, is mayor of Marietta.