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McMansions may uproot historic Queen Anne

Neighbors fight to save farmhouse

At 332 Murray Hill Ave. in Kirkwood is a gold-colored Queen Anne-style farmhouse as old as the neighborhood itself. Astute film buffs may know it as the childhood home of actress Jane Withers, who co-starred with James Dean in Giant. To neighbors with an interest in history, it represents a time when rural and suburban housing were interspersed and Kirkwood was an independent city.

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But now, the 106-year-old property may fall victim to high-density infill housing. The Queen Anne sits on one of seven parcels of land purchased for development by Enclaves of Kirkwood LLC.

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The plan is to demolish the farmhouse — along with two post-WWII-era homes beside it — clear-cut the tree canopy above it and haul in 8,000 cubic yards of dirt to flatten out the land. The developers want to create a plateau rising 6-8 feet above the adjacent property, which will be subdivided into 10 lots.

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Earl Williamson, president of the Kirkwood Neighbors' Organization (KNO), is now locked in a struggle to save the house, which he says has stayed remarkably solid and structurally sound over the years. "It is well worth preservation," he says. "It's the only architectural example of this style left in Kirkwood, and pretty much left in this area."

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The developers, who could not be reached for comment, first approached the KNO last October, and their original plan was to build 36 townhomes. "We rejected them out of hand," Williamson says. "At that point in time, we told them that if they took this house off the table, we would be much more willing to work with them, and we have maintained that stance since then."

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The developers eventually proposed to subdivide the parcels into 10 lots — which would conform to other lot sizes in the surrounding area, giving the neighbors very little leverage to fight against it.

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In a bid to save the Queen Anne, the KNO offered to support variances and re-zonings for two additional lots. The group also found a buyer for the house who was willing to pay at least $300,000. The developers turned down the neighbors' proposal and counter-offered to create 13 lots and move the house up to the street.

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The KNO rejected the idea. "It's just architecturally insane to take that house, move it up to the front and call that 'preservation,'" Williamson says.

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He says the Enclaves of Kirkwood partners have shown no respect for it from the start, allowing squatters to vandalize its interior since they purchased it in 2001.

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Watershed issues have also become a point of contention between the two parties. The source point spring of Sugar Creek, one of Kirkwood's major streams, lies in the Queen Anne's backyard. Williamson says the infill housing will literally bury the spring. However, the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management says the stream is not an official state waterway, so there's nothing they can do about it.

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The developers have the go-ahead to begin their housing project, but the KNO continues to negotiate with them in the hope of saving the landmark structure. At the KNO's monthly meeting last Thursday, residents voted unanimously to keep fighting to save the house, which Williamson says reflects growing neighborhood support.



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