19 December 2018

[MB McCart] - Common Sense Prevails: The Anderson Avenue Gazebo WILL Stay

Covington Board of Adjustments & Appeals (BOAA) votes unanimously to approve variance

*edited, 3:07PM, 12/19/18

For many who've lived in Covington for the last few decades, the memories are vivid & clear. The old Walker Harris property on Floyd St. The small pond & the cute, little gazebo. Those memories are especially strong this time of the year when folks remember all the Christmas lights & the lit-up Santa, sometimes on a boat, but sometimes in the gazebo itself.

Over the years that piece of property has changed hands a couple of times & eventually the gazebo, now currently pushing 50 years old, fell into a bad state of disrepair. In 2016 when it changed hands again, the owners of the property were planning to demolish it. When local couple, Carla Ferry & Ray Lustenberger, caught wind of this, they both wanted to do something about it. Having both grown up in Covington, they had a sentimental attachment to it.

The Historic Walker & Cora Harris Gazebo* at the Corner of Anderson & Thompson
 Downtown Covington, GA 

So in the Summer of 2016 they moved the gazebo a few hundred feet down to the house they'd just purchased at the corner of Anderson & Thompson. They were pleasantly surprised that it survived the move. That's how in rough shape it was. Once they got it moved, they rehabbed it & shored it up. Also during this time, they'd been working tirelessly to clean up the grounds of this property that had basically been going back to nature for the better part of a decade. Those familiar with this area in the heart of Covington know what I'm talking about. A few years ago you just figured this property was going to get condemned. The work they've done on it is remarkable.

So, all is well. This gazebo becomes a focal point of the neighborhood. People drive by just to look at it, basking in its memories. A couple of years pass by & then apparently the city gets a complaint from someone. Apparently, where Carla & Ray placed the gazebo was not in line with the ordinances of Covington. And remember, this is almost 2 & 1/2 years AFTER they moved it. Making it more complicated is that this part of Covington, like the rest of downtown Covington & the Floyd St & Conyers St. corridors, is part of the Covington Historic District, which puts it under the purview of the Covington Historic Planning Commission. A little known fact is that any property in this part of Covington is basically like being in a neighborhood with an association, bound by covenants & restrictions, but times ten. After all, this is the government we're talking about. Due to a 1980 state law, any municipality can designate a historic district & then have this police power over any & all properties in the district, which Covington did in the late 1990's. 

So the letter went out, Carla & Ray were in VIOLATION of Section 16 of the Covington, GA Code of Ordinances, and ultimately the city was requiring this gazebo to be removed (or moved to the backyard, which wouldn't have worked due to the grade of the back lot). But there were serious concerns that the gazebo wouldn't be able to survive a move of any sort. Also, there were questions as to if its status as an "accessory structure" was even legitimate or proper.  



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And perhaps this is were things possibly got a little sideways. I've compiled a pretty thick folder's worth of information, documentation & correspondence on this thing & it does seem as if there were some questionable things & activities on the city's side. More than anything, I think there was a communication breakdown early on, and that eventually lead to a tussle of sorts. And here is where opinions may vary depending upon one's perspective. Did the city engage in selective enforcement? Did they dig in their heels a bit? Did a nosy neighbor ultimately cause all of this? And then on the other side, did these homeowners go into crusade mode? Were they, as one person with the city I spoke with off the record thought, looking for a fight?

Again, your mileage will vary depending on where your vantage point is, but I'll certainly say this - I think both Carla & Ray are two fine people, and I've very much enjoyed getting to know them. And, for the sake of the gazebo, this fight had to be fought. I was told by a city employee that they were serious about this thing & that they didn't want to create a slippery slope. So, while some may say the process worked as it should, and I agree with that sentiment, it was not a foregone conclusion that all would end well...

And that's where the BOAA, the Covington Board of Adjustments & Appeals, comes in. They ensured that it did indeed end well, and for that - we should all be thankful. Yesterday, the 18th, at their quarterly meeting, the board - Fred Harwell, Liz Pope, Ms. A - Lee Aldridge & Sid Haggard - voted unanimously for common sense & maintaining a piece of Covington's history. Also in attendance were approx 20 supporters of the gazebo, this writer included. A round of applause filled the room after the Board's vote as folks took turns to hug Carla & shake Ray's hand. It was a win. A win for history. A win for good government & common sense. A win for Covington.

As always, thanks for reading. We'll see you next time.

*edited to be listed as the "Walker & Cora Harris Gazebo" as a family member made me aware that it was truly Ms. Cora's passion. 
MB McCart

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